Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A List

I've decided to continue on this letter meme theme. It's fun for me to come up with these lists. I've done this before. I was assigned the letter A after visiting IDV's arousing post on the letter S. You list ten things that you love that start with the assigned letter and you explain why you love them. So let's get started.

There are many things that I luv that start with the letter A. So many, in fact, that I spent a lot of time writing and editing and reworking my list.

1. Art

I luv art! I like all sorts of art--sculptures, paintings, comics, and even some live pieces. I said some live pieces, because certain interpretative dances are really just terrible! Photography is one of my favorite hobbies and museums are one of my favorite places to visit.

Art was among my favorite subjects in school. In fact, it was my elective all four years of high school. I enjoy drawing and coloring--who doesn't? A few times, we had projects due, and the rush to meet the deadline inspired some really creative masterpieces! During my fine arts class, we were tasked to create 15 pieces and put on an art show. And as usual, I procrastinated til the last few weeks of class. So, strapped for time, I drew 15 pictures of mountains by the sea. It was the same outline, except I used different weather patterns--rainy day, cloudy day, sunny day, windy day, snowy day. And when I ran out of weather patterns, I changed the time of day--rainy night, cloudy night, clear night, windy night, snowy night. Threw in a hurricane and a tornado. Then some fog and a sunrise and sunset.

15 pieces--I figured I'd at least get a C for Complete. The other students had various portraits and paintings in different styles. Some even had sculptures! I knew they spent a lot time and worked really hard on their projects. They did a hell of lot more than I. So imagine my surprise when I got an A+! Even more surprising, my art teacher praised my work! He said he was amazed at my portrayal of the adolescent's turbulent emotions and struggle against changing roles and expectations. I thought, Huh? I did what? Okay, thanks! I didn't realize I was such a genius! I was just happy to get an A!

But just so you don't think I'm such a fluke, I actually won a few art competitions. One of the most unexpected was when one of my works became the cover for a regional environmental awareness calendar. My prize: Two cases of dolphin safe tuna. That's right. Canned tuna! I'm sure the great masters of art would've been jealous.

Speaking of masters, there are so many artists that I like--Caravaggio, Rubens, Dali, and Edward Hopper are some examples. And one of my favorite artists of all time is Norman Rockwell. I enjoy looking at his works. His paintings transformed ordinary people into extraordinary masterpieces! He was able to take daily life and portrayed it in way that was familiar yet intimate and magnificent. I can relate to some of his paintings.



There's a certain sense of joy and whimsy in his works. He captured that ethereal sense of daydream and hope and innocent fun. I luv looking at this artwork and feeling a sense of nostalgia and serenity.

2. Architecture

In way, architecture is art to me. I'm amazed by how people plan and build such fantastic structures. How did humanity learn to build homes outside of the caves that served as shelters for thousands of year? And how did they build such incredible and amazing structures like Stonehenge or the Pyramids of Egypt and Meso America? They didn't have any cranes or large trucks. And so far, there hasn't been any evidence of aliens (or time travelers) having a hand in constructing these amazing structures. Well, not that there's any evidence left after secret gov't organizations confiscate them. I would luv to see Greek and Roman architecture up close. I would like to explore some of the great buildings of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. I am intrigued by the beautiful and intricate designs of grand constructions like the Alhambra in Spain or India's Taj Mahal. I would like to see Gaudi's work in Spain or the Sydney Opera House.



I'm particularly drawn to Art Deco style buildings like the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building, both in New York City. The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is another great example of Art Deco. Miami has a number of great Art Deco buildings that exude style and fun and chic. I luv the arrangement of geometric shapes and concentric designs, coupled with sleek lines and smooth curves and shiny, if not vibrant, colors. It's like math come alive! Great architecture blends beauty with function and form.



3. Anime

I luv the creativity of Japanese animation. They not only make incredible artwork, but they also use some really great music. I remember one of the first anime films I saw as a kid. It was Ninja Scroll. It was violent and full of adult situations, but it was absolutely fantastic! I was hooked on the plot and the highly stylized characters. This wasn't some Saturday morning or family oriented cartoon. This was a film that successfully used artists to render a gritty, gripping, and intense story. It remains one of my favorite animes of all time. I've never seen anything like it! But I wouldn't let any pre teens see it! This ain't no family film!




My other favorite anime is Samurai Champloo. I luv the fusion of jazz and hip hop and samurai culture! Its play on history and use of music works well with the original, quirky, and unexpected story lines. The anti heroes and dark humor make for some great entertainment. It's funny, sad, and poignant at the same time. It's one of the best series I've ever seen.

Very few American cartoons rival anime's quality and reputation. I think Avatar the Last Airbender is one of those. It's family oriented but still deals with mature themes like war and death and morality. I also like Samurai Jack and Powerpuff Girls--both original and smart cartoons that are entertaining for children and clever for adults.

4. Accents

I luv listening to different accents! It's fun trying to guess where people are from just by listening to how they pronounce words. Some accents sound absolutely sexy! Some are just intriguing. Sometimes, when I watch foreign films (that's non US made films for me), part of the fun is trying to understand what the actors are saying. Trainspotting is one of my fave movies. But when I first saw it, I was like, Um, are they speaking English? What the hell are they saying? It was a little difficult to make out what they were talking about but as the movie continued, I understood them better.

5. Ancient

I find ancient things interesting. I'm talking about people and structures and myths and legends. History is fascinating. I'm really intrigued by how ancient man was able to sail across the oceans and settle on new continents. How did the ancients travel the world and begin setting up their now lost empires? It's fascinating how remnants of ancient civilizations are still with us, though the people who built them are long gone. It is a testament to the ingenuity and imagination of humanity. I'm thrilled every time some lost city or ancient temple is found deep in the wilderness or underneath the seas.



Is Atlantis the ancient Minoan civilization on the island of Thera? Possibly. People used to think the Iliad and Odyssey were just stories. Then the lost city of Troy was found. Evidence found supports the existence of Amazons. People used to think the world was flat and Earth was the center of the universe. But now we know now that's not the case; though, tomorrow might bring new knowledge to change what we know now. Time and science will help find the truth.

I sometimes wonder what contributions our civilization will leave behind. Will future generations and civilizations look at us and be amazed at our achievements and failures? Will they even give us credit for our accomplishments and ideas or look down at us the same way we view our ancestors and past civilizations? I keep a journal and I've participated in two time capsules events. You know, where you put stuff in an air tight, waterproof container that will be dug up in the future. That way, people in the future will somehow get a glimpse of the time when the capsule was created. But I wonder, will those future people even understand our language and pictures and stuff we store in the time capsules? Or will our language and symbols be so alien to them the same way ancient cultures seem so foreign and strange to us? Will we leave behind long lasting structures like the Pyramids? Or will nature erase all evidence of our existence as life continues on without us?

6. Aquatics

I luv playing in the water. Water sports are fun. I'm talking about sports that actually take place in the pool or other bodies of water, not the kinky fetish--though I'm sure that's fun for some people. Swimming, surfing, sailing, skiing, diving, water polo--it's all good fun! One of the best places to see water sports is the Olympics. And the jewel of the Olympics is the most spectacular and brilliant sport of all: Synchronized swimming!





Glamorous costumes, dramatic expressions, and dazzling daring dance movements! No other sport combines athleticism and aesthetics like synchronized swimming. You won't find a more stylish and demanding sport at the Olympics! Just fabulous, absolutely riveting!



7. Acoustic

I luv hearing certain sounds. Music is one sound I like hearing. But there are other sounds that I enjoy. I like falling asleep to the sound of waves breaking on the shore. It's very hypnotic, relaxing. I also like the sound of rain falling on the tin roof, especially when I'm sleeping. It wakes me up briefly, so I could snuggle myself deeper under the covers, get comfortable, and go back to sleep.

I also like listening to faraway mechanical sounds, like a distant train, coming or going. I wouldn't like living next to a loud railroad though, shaking the building as it thunders by. But I do like to hear the choo choo sounds of a faraway train making a long journey across the land. It's a very longing sound, and it makes me want to daydream about distant travels and new adventures. I also love the sound of a fog horn along the shore at night. It reminds me of someone going away, saying so long and farewell to a loved one, maybe for the last time. Such a melancholy sound; I find it haunting, romantic, and very beautiful. I also like to hear the sound of a buoy bell ringing in the night as it sways on the ocean waves. It seems to be talking to the world or maybe to one person. I imagine it saying: I'm still here, still waiting, I haven't forgotten.

8. Automaton, Artificial Intelligence, Androids

I am fascinated by the idea of robots and artificial life! Robots, cyborgs, and machines. I think it's a natural (logical) progression of humanity's growth. I'm intrigued at the thought of people fusing with machines. Prosthetics are getting more advanced everyday. Just a few decades ago, people with debilitating illnesses couldn't leave their beds. Now, some of the smartest people in the world use computerized wheelchairs to move and communicate with the world. Computers have become extremely powerful. We use them every day from communicating across the globe to tracking hurricanes and finding the quickest way to get to a destination. They control our power grids and guide our weapons and move our satellites. The machines have made it possible for humanity to undergo surgeries and even fend off mortality for a little while longer.

I love movies and books about cybernetics and automatons. I take notice of some of the more common themes that they explore. Technology can be beneficial to us. They can be our salvation.

But there is also a dark side of technology. Either we use it to destroy ourselves or the automatons will take over! There is a fear of the machines! They will rise up and enslave or crush humanity.



I'm not sure about the ethics of creating artificial life; but don't humans also create life naturally? Who's to say that a living being conceived naturally has any more right to exist than a living being created artificially? Aren't we all just technology as well? Is not the human body made up of proteins and amino acids at the most basic levels? Cells are just the small blocks of living matter that somehow work together to make that most complex organism known as the human being. Technology has all ready made people live longer, some with artificial limbs and organs. It has helped infertile couples create new life out of their own DNA. And given the way technology has progressed rapidly, it's only a matter of time before we create artificial intelligence. Or has it all ready happened? They walk among us!



9. Amazons

I remember being fascinated with Amazons since first reading about them in Greek mythology. Powerful, beautiful women warriors--that's sexy! In a time when men fought among themselves to dominate the world, the Amazons were great, independent, fierce fighters. They did not believe themselves to be the weaker sex and their prowess and ferocity were feared by armies and nations. They had their own lives and only used the neighboring men for sex! I was like, Gawd! Those lucky neighboring bastards! I was hooked on any story or movie about them.

I remember Wonder Woman being the most famous modern take on the Amazons. She grew up on island full of sexy, warrior women--If I could, I'd be shipwrecked near that island every chance I got! It was the ropes and those fancy bullet deflecting bracelets and go go boots that did it for me! But I never quite understood the invisible jet. I mean, could people see her flying in the invisible jet? Because that would make an invisible jet kind of pointless if people can see you flying.

But my favorite depiction of the Amazons is from the greatest tv series ever: Xena, Warrior Princess! Now while Xena herself was not an Amazon, she sure hung out with a lot of them! Those women were hot and sexy, running around in their miniskirts and tank tops while kicking ass and making wild noises. Apparently, the scant wardrobe made it easier for them to move around, and a moving target is harder to catch. What a completely logical and sound reason! I'm all for it!

10. Amusement Parks

I luv amusement parks! I'm talking about roller coasters, fun slides, awesome rides, and cool games! I've been to several amusement parks. Every summer, I try to go to at least one amusement park. I've been to several different Six Flags, as well as Disney World, Sea World, and Schlitterbahn!

Six Flags has some pretty cool roller coasters. I love metal roller coasters, because the twists and loops and steep drops are fun! Also, because I fit better in those. The wooden roller coasters hurt my knees--they keep bumping up against the front seat. Those wooden coasters were not made for tall people. The rides where your feet are dangling feel exhilarating and scary! Just double knot your shoelaces before you get on. I also love vertical drops--where they take you up several stories high, then without warning, they just drop you while you scream your head off! The vertical drops that bounce back up and down are totally awesome!

I can ride 3 roller coasters in a row before I have to sit down and take a break. By then, I feel a little dizzy, losing my equilibrium from having my brain shaken and tossed around at high speeds and terrifying drops and sudden turns. That feeling that your heart just jumped out of your chest or that your brain is being ripped out from your body is just fantastic! But the water rides are fun, too! Most amusement parks now have water rides. But Schlitterbahn has the best rides when it comes to water slides and water thrills! They've got extreme drop slides and lazy tubing rides, where you just float on an inner tube along the river, and even drink beer if you want! It's freeing and fun to slide in cool water. It's one of my favorite things to do in the summer heat!

I remember the first time I went on a raft ride. That's where you and a group get inside a round raft and go down some rapids between man made canyons. Along the way, you're squirted with water guns. The people looking from the top of the canyon would insert coins into these water cannons,aim them, and press the button to shoot water at the raft group below! Bastards! Although, I did blast a few people when I was up there on the canyon :) The fun happens as you spin and bob and bounce along, eventually coming to a waterfall dunk! The rapids carry the raft towards a waterfall and some people will get wet! I remember heading towards the waterfall, and these two guy who sat opposite of me and my friends were pointing at us, laughing! They were certain that we would get wet! My friends and I braced ourselves for the dunk, but at the last second, the raft made a sudden 180 degree turn and it was those two bastards who got all wet! Oh, how the rest of us laughed, all the way til the end of the ride! Fun memories!

But it's not just roller coasters and drops at the amusement parks. There are also some really fun shows at the amusement parks. I saw an amazing Chinese circus act at a Six Flags. They also had some great musical performances. Disney has some fun theater shows and there's always a fun parade like every few hours! Which happens to be the best time to go for a ride--everyone is too busy running to see the parades, so that leaves no lines at the fun rides! But the best parade has to be the light parade Disney puts on at night. Fantastic floats sparkle with lights and the people on them wear great costumes. The fireworks were amazing! Sea World puts on the best animal shows ever! I luv watching the seals and whales performing! Everyone loves the killer whale shows, but my favorite are the dolphins and beluga whales show! Those trainers get dressed up and they do acrobatic high dives along with the incredible feats the animals perform. It's an exciting show. Most of my trips to amusement parks are only for a day, but I need at least a week to fully enjoy and explore all the wonderful things these vast parks have to offer.

I do have to confess though, that as many times as I've been to an amusement park, I've never gotten on a merry go round. In fact, I've never ridden a merry go round, ever! It just seems so blah, compared to death defying drops or fast sharp turns. Also, it's usually just kids on those things. Who knows? Maybe someday, I'll get on a merry go round. I don't mind riding the rails or train though. Mostly because I enjoy the view.


Well, there you have it. Ten things that I luv that start with the letter A! I had a hard time narrowing down my list, but I enjoyed writing about them.

You don't have to this meme if you don't want to do it, but I liked it.

If people want to participate and do their own top ten list, they can ask to be assigned a a letter. But I'll make it easy. So if you want to make your own list, I'm assigning the letter C as in Country.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Identity

We have several major undertakings going on at work. Naturally, there's a lot of stress going on at the workplace. The building has recently gone through some rewiring and renovations. There are still a few kinks to be worked out.

Working late last night, I was in one of the smaller meeting rooms working with a client on a project. I heard the static buzz of the intercom. I couldn't understand what they were saying, but it sounded like they were looking for someone. I've all ready missed two calls last week because I didn't realize that they were calling for me on the intercom. So, just to be safe, I excused myself from the client, then I pressed the reply button and asked, "Hi! Were you looking for me?"

And it was a particularly high strung, usually cranky, older coworker who answered quite angrily. "No! I wasn't calling for you!," she huffed, " I was calling for Jen! Are you Jen!?!"

Clearly, she was stressed out and upset. My client raised an eyebrow, but I smiled and replied cheerily, "No," I paused, "not today...but maybe tomorrow."

Silence. Then laughter on the other end of the line. Even the client chuckled. Stress level diminished. My work was done for the evening.

And if it gets hectic today, I must remember that for today, I am Jen. I may not have her fabulous rack and her ability to strut in high heeled shoes, but I'm just as nice looking.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Living with the Locos

I had felt ill last Thursday, so I spent Friday and Saturday eating recovery foods. Foods like oatmeal, jello, saltines and animal crackers--basically bland but easy to digest foods. So thinking I was better on Sunday, I made some chili fries and ate them. By that evening, I was feeling ill again. Clearly, my stomach wasn't ready for the hot, spicy food. Luckily by midnight, I was feeling better. But just to be safe, I decided to stick to recovery food for a few more days.

I went in to work Monday, which was actually a Federal holiday. Most people wanted to be off so they could have a three day weekend. Me, I like working on some Federal holidays, because I get holiday pay ;) While I was leaving for work, I was surprised to see my neighbors out so early in the dark morning. I live around some really strange people. Most are nice, but some I find very unusual and perplexing. Usually, the Old Bird and her son don't emerge from their nest til the sun had been out a few hours. But this cold morning, they were out under the porch light, feeding the cats--the strays and the pets who like to hang around for the free food.

I usually try to avoid the neighbors, especially the Old Bird. Mostly because I don't want to get trapped in a conversation dominated by her naming her many ailments and how they're affecting her. It's really more of a report on her medical condition than a legitimate conversation. I don't think she really cares who she talks to, as long it's someone hearing her talk. And the Old Bird's 'disabled' son thinks of himself as a movie critic, because he rents a lot of movies. I'm not exactly sure what his disability is, but he sure does drive a lot to the movies and rental places and for take out. He likes to offer unsolicited opinions on films and which ones he deems worthy of being watched. I really don't give a crap about movie critics. I don't need anyone to tell me what to watch and if I should like it or not. I have my own brain, I'll decide what I want to watch and how I'll feel about it!

I said hello to them, we had a small exchange about the weather, then I left for work. I try to be polite, but truthfully, I don't like to get too close to the neighbors. I really just want to be left alone. But it's nice to be courteous to people. After work, I got home late. I ate a late dinner near midnight, when I heard the sounds of argument out in the parking lot. I looked out the window, and on the other side of the building, I saw some woman who seemed to be yelling at someone I couldn't see. She seemed drunk, and I figured it was probably just a drunk couple.

I thought about whether or not I should do something. On the one hand, they were getting annoying and loud at times, and they were drunk. I thought about calling the cops, but then I figured, well, they're not really hurting anybody, and I really didn't want to get involved in their private argument. Just let them work it out. Besides, if someone else has a problem with the noise, then they can just call the cops themselves. After 15 minutes, I stopped hearing their argument. An hour later, I heard the woman yelling at the man again. But the man didn't yell back. I looked out the window again but I didn't see them. I thought maybe they had moved their scream fest to their porch. But then I saw a head rise up from between the cars in the parking lot. It was the woman, and she was calling out to the man, who seemed to be on the ground. I saw her reach down in an attempt to shake him and yell at him to get up.

I was a little alarmed, thinking, perhaps something was wrong with him. Maybe I needed to call an ambulance. But I thought maybe I ought to head out and see what was wrong before I made any emergency call. But when I got out the door, I saw they had stumbled to their front door, opened it, and went inside. Ah, well, that was a relief. I didn't really know that couple because honestly, they were new in the neighborhood. Some neighbors keep changing as people move in and move out. So far, the new couple hasn't made a favorable impression.

I woke up early this morning at five and decided to go for a walk. I had plan on running, but I wanted to take it easy for a few days until I felt better. As I passed by the drunk couple's car, I saw a purse and it's contents spilled all over the ground--a cellphone, credit cards, a wallet, lipstick, and some keys. I gathered the contents and put them in the purse. I took the purse and left it by the front door. Then I continued on my walk. It was a chilly morning, but I was energized. Today is a good day. I thought about my crazy neighbors; and while we may not be close, at the very least we seem to maintain some semblance of respect for each other's space. Live and let live.

I had agreed to work the holiday yesterday, so I could be off today. Part of the reason I enjoyed working the holiday was because of the extra pay. But the truth is, I really wanted to be off today, because today is President Barack Obama's inauguration.



It's such a great feeling, an optimism and celebration has got a hold of the country, maybe the world. I'm glad my old tv broke, because I can watch the inauguration on a bigger screen. I've lived to see some amazing things, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of communism in Russia, the fall of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. Now, today, I'm seeing the first mixed race President get sworn in. It's an amazing time to be alive. It's an incredible feeling to know that hope and change has come.

My favorite pic of the inauguration: President Barack Obama makes a shaka (aloha spirit) sign to his Punahou High School marching band all the way from Hawaii! Aloha!!!


Friday, January 16, 2009

Consumption

Yesterday, I meant to post the 10 things I luv that start with the letter A, as assigned by IDV for the letter meme. Unfortunately, I became ill. Instead, I dealt with some unpleasant things that begin with the letter A, the first being Affliction.

I suffered from the consumption. No, not TB, but I felt a generalized wasting away and malaise. It started late afternoon with a dull Ache in my stomach. By evening, I had the dry heaves--the urge to vomit, but I had nothing in my stomach. It had been hours since I last ate lunch. Then I started to Alternate between chills and fevers. I'd be freezing for a little while, but then I'd break out into a sweat and have to throw the sheets off. It was official. I had food poisoning. I had consumed something that was causing distress to my body.

I couldn't find a comfortable position. I'd tossed and turned and I sat up; I leaned back, I was on my sides, and I kept changing resting places from the bed, the sofa, and the floor. I was passing in and out of consciousness. Then my back and shoulders started to hurt because I was moving around so much and twisting my body around to find a few moments of relief from the pain in my Abdomen. I took an Acetaminophen (Tylenol) without water, and hoped for some relief. I debated going to the urgent care center, but decided against that. I felt too weak and ill to drive there. I thought about calling an Ambulance, but then decided, Hell No! I would tough it out.

Meanwhile, the phone kept ringing. I ignored it for the most part, but during a lull in my misery, I answered it. It was friend who wanted to go out and party. Alcohol was the last thing that I needed. I told him that I was sick. He wanted to take me to the hospital, but I refused. He then suggested maybe some over the counter medicine, but I told him I already swallowed a pill and didn't feel like I could stomach any liquids. Then he suggested I try an enema! He said it would help flush out my system. I told him that the last thing I wanted was a tube up my Ass! But if I ever needed any help with putting something up an Anus, he'll be the first one I call. We got a good laugh over that, and then we hung up.

I felt sick again soon after that, but luckily, I passed out from exhaustion. I woke near midnight to find that the pain had lessened considerably. The dry heaves were gone. I was still a little sore, but I was thirsty. I took a few sips of water, then I went back to sleep. When I woke up this morning, I felt much better. I'm still feeling tender in my abdomen, but I have been able to eat and drink something. I can't quite figure out if it was something I had for breakfast or lunch yesterday that made me sick. Or maybe it was just a germ that I picked up from being with the filthy, germ ridden public! But just to be safe, I'm avoiding those foods for a while. Today, my diet will consist of jello, water, maybe some chicken soup with crackers later on this evening. I shall only consume the things that will help bring about Alleviation.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Beggars can't be choosers

I woke up early this morning to do some shopping. It was still dark when I went to the store to pick up some things that I was supposed to get over the weekend. I bought a new surge protector and a filing cabinet with some hanging folders. The surge protector was for my new tv. It doesn't make sense to buy something expensive and not get it some extra protection. I needed a filing cabinet, because the cardboard box I used to keep my records and receipts is more than full, spilling it's contents onto the floor. As I was putting the items in my trunk, I saw in the corner of my eye a man approaching me. Now living in big cities has certainly changed me. Big city life makes you more aware of things, be a little more cautious, and be wary of strangers.

He stopped a few yards from my car and asked, "Sir, do you have any spare change?"

Ah, a homeless man, I presumed. Except, he didn't look homeless--he was clean shaven, his hair trimmed, he wore clean clothes, and he didn't smell bad. But who knows? Maybe he was homeless. And I thought back to the first time I ever saw a homeless person. It was years ago. It was the summer before my last year in high school. It was my first time in the big city. San Francisco to be exact.

I was visiting my cousins, and though it was summer, it was freakin cold! We caught the train into town. My cousin and some friends were showing me around. I took a lot of pictures for the folks back home. It was the first time I had seen buildings taller than three stories. My first thought when I went into a Macy's dept store was, "Wow, is this a mall?"

My cousin laughed and said, "Nah, man! This a'int no mall! It's a department store!"

They indulged me, by taking five flights of escalators instead of the elevators. I had never been on an escalator before--they didn't have those back home! On the way out, we passed by a homeless man, holding up a sign. I was flabbergasted! We had just left a dept store full of nice things and right outside was a homeless person begging for money. It seemed unreal to see such a juxtaposition of wealth and poverty. I was going to give him some money, but my cousin said, "Don't. Just ignore him."

I was a little troubled by this, but I figured my cousin knew better than I. He was a city boy after all. Well I took a picture instead. I'd never seen a homeless person before! They do exist! We didn't have them back home, and boy will the folks back home will be surprised when I bring back photographic evidence of homeless people!

The rest of the day, we explored the city, went down to Fisherman's Wharf, and checked out the views from the top of the Bank of America building. We checked out the beach and parks before hitting Chinatown. We stopped at a McDonald's for a late lunch, and on the way out, I saw the same homeless man I had seen in front of Macy's! I was like, Wow, this guy gets around.

My cousin saw me looking at the homeless man and said, "Cuz, you're too soft! Don't give 'em any money. You've gotta be tough if you want to survive in the big city! Some of these people are con artists. They can spot an easy mark like you from a mile away! Tourists are suckers and easy to fool. These mofos will take advantage of you and easily rob you and kill you without a second thought."

Huh, I thought, that is disturbing. Later on, while waiting to cross the street, we saw a man get out of parked car, walk down to the front of a busy building, sat down and proceeded to hold up a cardboard homeless sign! We laughed when we saw that. I was like, Wow, there really are con artists in the city! *Snap* Another foto for the folks back home.

I was lucky my cousin and his friends looked out for me that summer. I learned a lot of things, gained a little street smarts, and had a lot of fun. But as much as I learned to be tougher and wiser, there have been a few times when I dropped a few coins in some beggar's cup. My cousin would've been horrified. But I think I've gotten a lot harder since then. Most times, I just ignore people standing at the street corner, holding up signs, asking for money. Truthfully, part of me thinks, Hey, if you can stand all day on a busy street corner holding up signs, you need to get a job wearing a sandwich board for ads. A little callous, I guess. But big city living has made me jaded.

My cousin was right. Experience has taught me that it's necessary to be a little hard to survive in the big city. But that doesn't mean you have to be a total jerk. I mean, I still give to charity and I still volunteer for community projects every now and then. I'd like to think that my efforts and my money are going to a good cause and not supplying some drunk or addict with the means to slowly poison himself. Of course, if you're homeless, I guess drugs and alcohol provides the escape you need from a miserable existence. Still, I couldn't bring myself to support anyone doing something so destructive to themselves.

So now I'm looking at this beggar standing next to my car, wearing his blue Nike sports jacket and shiny, unscuffed military boots. He continued, "My girlfriend and I are trying to get a motel room for the night."

I looked around. I didn't see a girlfriend nearby. But I told him, "Sorry, I don't have any spare change."

It was true. I used a credit card. Come to think of it, I rarely use or carry any cash anymore. I've gotten so used to using my bank card for everything. The beggar started to turn away, but trying to be helpful, I said, "You know, there's a shelter just across the street. You can find a place to stay there and get something to eat."

I pointed at the building, but the beggar got huffy and bristled, "I'm not going to any shelter! I just want some money!"

I wanted to say, Then get a job, you bum!

But instead, I held my tongue and watched him stomp away. I got in the car and laughed at absurdity of the situation before driving out of the parking lot.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Turn On and Tune In

Every now and then, something happens that makes me think that there is a higher order in the universe, that something greater connects us all. I had no idea when I assigned the letter T in the last post that I would be affected by something starting with that same letter T. It started last week. I was talking on the telephone with a friend, and I was telling her about how I was channel surfing and stumbled upon a shopping network earlier that day. It's one of those shopping channels where they try to sell you all sorts of merchandise. I had been thinking about getting a new tv for a while now. Well, it just so happened that the special of the day was a tv. It was actually the kind of tv that I wanted: 32 inches, brand name, good price ($till expen$ive, more than my rent), a warranty, and it had all the features that I wanted in a tv.

My friend asked me why I didn't buy it. And I told her, because I didn't need a new tv. Granted my 19 inches tv was old but it still worked. And though I would need to buy a digital tuner come February to be able to watch any tv shows using my antenna, I wasn't worried. So long as I was hooked on cable, my tv would keep working. I try not to buy stuff that I don't need to keep down the clutter and to avoid wasting money. If not's broken, then don't fix it.

Well when I got home on Thursday, I sat on the sofa and was paying bills online when I heard a buzzing and zapping sound. I looked towards the tv and saw blue sparks emanating from the bottom. Then the blue sparks arched outwards with a thunderous, zapping sound. It all happened in a few seconds, but it felt longer. I don't know what I was thinking, but I grabbed the remote and turned the tv on! Yeah, smart move! Actually, I thought maybe I had turned the tv on by accident, so maybe I should turn it off. All that happened was a click sound and then nothing. Total blackness. I tried the remote again, but the tv didn't respond. I pressed the On button on the tv, but still nothing. Then I smelled that awful scent of burned out electronics--melted plastic and soldering wires. I unplugged the tv. It was official. The tv was broken.

I sighed, saddened by the loss of my long time tv. I've had it since college and it moved three times with me. What do I do now? Not that I had planned on watching anything that night. Nonetheless, I would have to replace it eventually. Repairing it was out of the question; it was too old, outdated, and technology had left it behind. I'd be wasting money on it. And then I thought to myself, wait a minute, this was the opportunity I was waiting for! The universe has sent me a sign! Go forth, young man, and buy a new tv!



So with excitement, I started researching tvs on the web. I read several reviews and compared specs and prices. There were so many features that I needed to consider. Some of them I hadn't really thought of before. Did I want Picture in Picture? I've seen that before on other tvs, but it seemed a nuisance, blocking off a corner of the action. What about split view, where each half of the screen shows a different channel? That would be distracting; and how would you even hear the sound? 720 pixels or 1080? Did it matter? The reviews said it only matters on screens bigger than 42 inches, but I would have to see an in store demonstration to be able to see any differences. Warranties and Customer Service are important, too. It took a while but I finally narrowed it down to my top three choices. I had a plan that I would wake up early in the morning and head out to the stores that opened early to do some comparisons and try out some of the tvs. Then I'd check out the other stores during lunch. I figured after work, I would have an idea of which one I wanted and buy it. Or at the very least, I would narrow it down and sleep on it. I even set myself up with a spending limit.

It was a great plan. And like most of my great plans, it didn't turn out the way I envisioned it. A friend called that evening, and I went over. Hung out. Drank some. Stayed up late and partied. And barely had time to wake up and shower before rushing off to work. During lunch, I came home and took a nap. After work, I slept. So much for in store comparisons. So early this morning, I braved the foggy roads to do my in store comparisons. I also stopped at the grocery store to buy flour and potatoes and chocolate covered raisins. I needed flour for biscuits, potatoes for a salad, and the chocolate raisins I got because I passed by the candy isle and they were on sale. Sneaky grocery store!

I visited 5 stores and even got to try out some of the models. The Wal Mart had some great tvs. In fact, I bought my last tv from Wal Mart. But they didn't have my top two choices. However, they did some really nice 26 inches tvs that looked great and were very inexpensive. They were good brands, and the pictures looked amazing. The problem was, they were tv/dvd player combos. I'm not so keen on those. I mean, what happens when the dvd player breaks? Will the tv still work? And what if it's the tv that breaks? Wouldn't that mean I have to get another tv and another dvd player? So I passed on those deals.

I don't even know why I went to Circuit City; they didn't have any of my choices and the online prices were a tad over my budget. I tried a local appliance store, but I wasn't impressed. I went to Best Buy since I knew that they would most likely have my choices. They did, and the prices were good, but still expensive, maxing out my budget. The salesperson was extolling all the different virtues of each tv. One of the big points addressed was that my choices were perfect for gaming! I didn't need to hear that! I have a video game addiction! Bastard! I figured that I would think about it some more while I went to check out one more store. It was a smaller chain, and they did have my first choice, but the price was high. Well, the salesman matched Best Buy and offered a better extended warranty and service deal. I was sold.

In the end, I paid way over my budget, but I figured the extended warranty and service was worth it. It's the most expensive thing I've ever had to buy in over a year! It was more than my rent! But the peace of mind that comes with an extended warranty and service was worth it. This tv is now the third most expensive thing I own; the first being my car, then my computer. And I'm getting that same feeling of light headedness that I got when I purchased the car. I'm spending a lot of money. Whoa. But like when I got the car, the feeling isn't overwhelming; just very aware that I'm making a huge buy. I had planned on buying a new computer this year. I was even eyeing that new MacBook Pro. But I guess that'll have to wait til next year; maybe the end of the year.

Sigh

But hey, I've got a brand new tv, and it's awesome. Now, I know 32 inches isn't considered big screen, but it is to me, and it's a totally different view from 19 inches. Though it is kind of weird seeing such a big screen in my living room. Luckily, I had a place all ready for it so it wouldn't seen too big and out of place.



Check out the old set up with my old tv. Very easy to put together and each shelf holds up to 300 pounds!



Your eyes do not deceive you. That is a VHS player on the top. Where's my dvd player you ask? Why that's my computer! I multi task with the laptop.

You may be wondering, what the hell is that thing by the tv? Well, that's my travel alarm clock. It works great. I learned the hard way that when the power goes out, so does the plugged in alarm clock. And what's really neat is that it has a date and temperature feature. Let's see what the temperature is. Geez, a balmy 77 F.



Here's the box the tv came in. That box has a handle.



Surprisingly, this tv is a lot lighter than my old tv. It also came with a bunch of pamphlets and a manual. Reading material for the year. Information on how to connect the computer to the tv or the various settings to adjust the pictures and sound. How exciting!

I spent about 10 minutes putting the stand and the tv together. I spent another 10 readjusting my shelves to fit the tv. Then tv channel set up took about 20 minutes or so. Overall, I'm very pleased.

It fits perfectly without being too ostentatious. I'm still a little overwhelmed at my purchase. Still trying to get used to that spending a lot of money feeling. Still trying to get over that new and exciting toy feeling. I shall spend the entire weekend getting acquainted with my tv. I have a new remote control to familiarize myself with. My old one I could figure out in the dark by touch! It was like a natural extension of my body. I plan to do the same with this one. This could be a lot of fun.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Brought to you by the letter S

Supersonic

I loved this song. I didn't see the video til years after I heard it on the AM radio. I can only remember one part of this rap when it first came out in the 80s:

The S is for super and the U is for unique
The P is for perfection and you know that we are freaks

The E is for exotic and the R is for raps

So tell those nosy people just to stay the hell back


Supersonic!

A meme from Snooze

Here are the instructions: How this meme works is that you leave a comment on this post, and I'll assign you a letter. Then you write about ten things you love that begin with your assigned letter, and post it at your place. When people comment on your list, you give them a letter, and the chain continues on and on.

*(I'm not tagging anyone)

Snooze assigned the letter S. There are a lot of things that start with the letter S that I like. These are a few of my favorite things:

Girls in white dresses with blue Satin Sashes;
S
nowflakes that Stay on my nose and eyelashes;
S
ilver-white winters that melt into Springs;
These are a few of my favorite things.


I kid! I kid! Okay, here are my favorite things that begin with the letter S:

1. Snooze

Of course, Snooze comes first! I think I first met Snooze via IDV. I enjoy reading her blog, her thoughts, and her observations. She's smart, funny, passionate, and brave! I suppose you have to be when you live with an evil cat who likes to wake you up in a special way. I admire how she puts herself out there and shares some of the most poignant and entertaining experiences of her life. Whatever life's challenges, she's not afraid to face them head on, and she always manages to pick herself up from hardship and keep moving forward.

2. Science

It was one of my favorite subjects in school. Funnily enough, as much as I loved science, I kind of sucked at math in high school. I was taking physics with no problem, but had to work harder just to pass Pre Calculus! It always seemed that way; I can understand application better than theory! It's like, if I can see it in my head, it makes sense and I understand it. All those Xs and Ys in algebra threw me for a loop. Geometry I liked, because I understood it. I see an algebra equation and I think, 'What's wrong with that sentence? There are words missing!'

I prefer word problems, because they were easier to see in my mind. But in college, I challenged myself to take Pre Calculus, even though it wasn't required of me. I wanted to get over my fear of math. I worked hard at it. When we took our final, I was hoping for a C so that I'd still be able to stay in my degree plan. I was so nervous, waiting in the library to use their computers when the grades were ready. I signed in, checked my report card, hoping desperately for a C. Then I saw it: B! I got a B and I jumped up and screamed out in joy, "Yes!", causing a number of people to look my way. I was ecstatic! It was more than I had hoped for; to this day, it's my favorite accomplishment in college.

I like to learn new things. Knowledge is a good thing, and the more we learn, the more we understand how the universe works and our place in it. When we expand our minds, we free ourselves from ignorance and fear; we can make our world a better place.

3. Stories and Songs

I love to hear stories and songs. Tales teach us about life--the good things, the sad things, and the unknown. I love to hear about personal stories, the struggles, the joy, the life lessons. Everyone has a great story to tell, if we take the time to listen. I also love to hear about imagination! I love great fiction and fantasy and science fiction. I relish stories that take me away with incredible tales of fantastic worlds and amazing beings and creative plots exploring the limitless possibilities.

And songs are just stories set to music. A good song makes you feel--happy, sad, alive, alone, it puts emotions into music. A good song takes you away, to a magic place, for a little while. It makes you want to dance; it makes you want to smile; it makes you want to cry; it makes you want to laugh; it makes you feel so much and so less. It makes you feel like it's about you, your life, your experiences, your hopes, your dreams, your sorrow, your joy, your whole reason for being. A good song helps you remember, helps you mourn, helps you celebrate, helps you hope.

Some of my favorite things combine stories and songs, like movies and plays and musicals. Seriously, who doesn't love The Sound of Music? When I was a small child, my mother loved this movie. So much so that she made us memorize numbers from it for the church talent show. That's right. My brothers and I used to perform Sound of Music show tunes in church during talent shows. We always won first place. The prize included Bibles--like we needed any more of those in my house! Please, I had enough to stock the rooms of a charge by the hour motel!

But every time we performed those songs, people loved it, especially the elderly! Some Sundays, between Sunday school and before church service began, some old ladies would arrive early. These old crones--totally mean, wrinkled, snobbish, haughty bitches--would light up upon seeing my mother. They would often make requests for my brothers and I to sing them a song. And the most popular tunes these mean bitties loved to hear were Do Re Mi and So Long, Farewell. Oh, how they clapped and enjoyed our small performances. They used to offer us money, but my mom refused, saying that wasn't necessary. I didn't mind it so much when I was little. But when I got older, those requests got on my nerves! When you're a preteen, it's a little hard trying to look cool while singing The Lonely Goatherd to entertain some old ladies in church. Totally messed up my game! After a while, I got smart and avoided being in that position in the first place. First I hid from the old vultures; then I just stopped going to church all together.

Most of these old ladies have passed on. I can sort of understand now why my mom didn't mind having us sing for the old crones. She wanted to give them something to enjoy. And as much as I hated doing it back then, I have to admit that if any of the old birds would ask me now, I wouldn't mind doing it one bit. I think it'd be fun, or at least be worth a good laugh. In fact, if I ever find myself in Austria, you better believe I'll be running up them hills, twirling and singing, "The hill are alive with sound of music!" No alcohol no drugs no habit needed.



4. Stroll

And when I'm done playing Sound of Music, I would very much like to go for a stroll. I enjoy a nice, leisurely walk, whether by myself or with the company of another, perhaps others. It's a very relaxing and healthy way to pass the time. I like to take in the sights, the sounds, and the very nature of the places I'm exploring. It could be a nice park; a nature hike; or leaving footprints in the sand, feeling the ocean washing over my toes. It's a good way to think, to get lost in your own thoughts, maybe daydream, or just take the time to re evaluate your life, or just appreciate the here and now.

5. Scent

On a good stroll, I can pick up some great smells--a bakery baking bread and pastries, leaves burning, lovely perfumes, and beautiful scented flowers. A good scent can take you back to fond memories. Or it can inspire or arouse the spirit and emotions. One of my favorite scents is the flower gardenia. I much prefer gardenias to roses. I love the sweet scent of gardenias. Such beautiful, fragrant flowers. I used to sleep with my window slightly opened, and the sweet, exotic scent of gardenias my mother had planted would waft into my room. They made me feel so relaxed and lured me to sleep. To this day, I find the alluring scent of gardenias welcoming and pleasing, putting me at ease and in a good mood.

6. Sweet and Savory and Spicy

Scent has a great impact on taste, too. I love the taste of sweet and savory and spicy food. When I was younger, I was a very picky eater. I just wanted plain tasting, very bland food, like regular oatmeal with some milk and a little bit of sugar. Maybe just some chicken tenders or a hard boiled egg yolk--I just ate the yolk part, not the white. But when I grew older, my taste buds craved variety and excitement. One of my guilty pleasures is food--I love sampling different foods from all over the world. My palate has come to appreciate the many tasty, scrumptious offerings from the world. It's funny, because when I was younger, I couldn't use the whole seasoning packet in a bowl of ramen, because I thought it was too spicy. Now, my friends say that some of the food that I eat is too hot and too spicy! When I make meals for them, I have to keep it mild, though they still say that they can taste the heat. As far as sweet things go, I'll always take a cobbler over a pie. I'll always choose carrot cake over chocolate cake. And over the years, I still like vanilla over chocolate. Though, given the choice, I do enjoy the Neapolitan with vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry lined up together.

7. Sea Sand Surf Sun

I love the beach. There's just something about walking on the sand, where the sea meets the shore that I find so relaxing and invigorating at the same time. Swimming in the sea feels much different than swimming in a pool or lake. The waves are fun to ride and the sea caresses your feet as they wash over them. Soft warm sand feels so relaxing and welcoming. The right amount of sun feels warm on your skin. A sun setting or rising is a beautiful, mesmerizing sight. And as much as I enjoy playing in the water, I also love to fall asleep on the beach, lulled by soft waves breaking and sea breeze blowing gently. Be it night or day, there's something magical about being on a beautiful beach. Just don't forget the sunscreen. It makes a trip to the beach much more fun and enjoyable.



8. Stars

And the beach is one of the best places to watch stars. I love watching stars. There's something very enchanting and deep about watching stars. It makes one feel very small. It makes me ponder about all the wonders of the universe. It amazes me that some of the stars I'm seeing are no longer there. They're so far away that by the time their light reaches earth, they've all ready flamed out or become something different. It humbles me to realize just how tiny I am in the grand scheme of the universe. It's such a breath taking sight to witness falling stars on a clear night. Such a marvelous sight. I still make wishes when I see those falling stars. It's such a mind boggling thought that the same matter that makes up the stars also make up our bodies. It's a wondrous feeling to know that we're all made of stars.

9. Smile

I love to see smiles. I also like smiling when I feel good. Isn't a baby's smile one of the most beautiful things to behold, such pure and simple joy? A smile makes anyone look good. I like that it represents happiness. A true smile is very beautiful, uplifting, and wonderful. It's also cheerfully contagious.

10. Sex

You knew this was coming! Sex is definitely one of those things that bring a smile. Sure, it can be awkward; sure it can be confusing and confounding and conflicting. But it's an undeniable force of nature. It's an integral part of the human condition. When done right, it's the most incredible, fun, and amazing experience. Without it, we wouldn't be here.

And nobody sings about it better than my favorite hip hop group of all time, Salt N Pepa! So many great songs! When they said, Let's Talk about Sex, I listened. When they said Push It Real Good, I did. I wanted to hear them say, Whatta Man! Shoop Baby Shoop!

There you have it. Ten things I love that start with the letter S.

You don't have to do this if you don't want to do it; but if you do, I'm assigning you the letter T, as in Titillating. I'll be looking forward to reading whatever you come up with.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Good Intentioned Samaritan

I usually sleep in on Sundays when I'm off. That's probably because I'd most likely stayed up late on Saturday night. When I wake up, it's an hour or two before noon. I'm not usually hungry, just thirsty. Most times, I just drink water from the faucet, then go back to sleep. A few times, I actually look into the fridge and try to figure out what to eat later. This Sunday, I looked into the fridge, and my eye caught the half empty pitcher of Kool Aid.

'Well, that might be a nice alternative to drinking water', I thought. So I took the pitcher out, grabbed a cup, and sat down at the table. I had made this Kool Aid earlier in the week. I was cleaning out some cupboards and found a lot of stuff that I had forgotten about. Some Kool Aid, some seasonings, and half a bottle of vodka behind some jello boxes. I don't like to waste stuff, so I figured, eh, might as well use them all and that's what I did. When I make Kool Aid, I like to mix different flavors. This one was a mixture of orange and strawberry. I had made two pitchers of the stuff, but was down to this half empty one. Most of it, I had served yesterday to some visitors. Well, not visitors exactly. And as I poured myself a drink, I thought back to what had transpired the day before.

I was putting away groceries when there was a knock on the door. I wasn't expecting any visitors, so I thought about who could it be now. I guessed it was either someone at the wrong place or some salesman trying to sell me stuff. A quick peek in the peephole confirmed it was both. Two young fellas dressed in white shirts, ties, and black pants. The names tags confirmed it: Mormon missionaries.

I opened the door to be greeted by a Hello, smiles, and well rehearsed lines of them being new in town and walking about to get to know the neighbors.

I cut them off and said, "You're Mormons."

They looked surprised and confused. Silence. I could see the wheels turning inside their heads as they tried to figure out what to do next.

But I continued, "I'm not a Mormon, and I've no interest in joining your religion." They started to say their good byes, thanking me for my time, but I interrupted, "But come on in and have a drink. It's a little warm out today."

They were unsure, looked at each other but I opened my door wider and smiled and said, "Take a break. Then be on your merry way." They still looked a little apprehensive, as if still trying to figure out the best way to spread their message to me, so I added, "Dudes, some of my best friends are Mormons. Some have done missions in Asia and Africa."

That got another surprised look out of them. But it was true. Some of my best friends were Mormons and a few had done missionary work in foreign countries. I used to write them letters and sent the occasional care package. They loved the care packages--it was mostly candy and potato chips, junk food that I sent them. They wrote back about the things they've seen and what they had done and the people they've met. When we met up some years after their missions, I was dumbfounded by what they revealed to me about their missions. I knew that they were doing hard work, but I didn't realize how their church made it much harder on some of them.

Missionaries don't get paid. Often, they're fed by the church and its members and the small amount of money their family may send them. But the families are often told that their kids (really, what else are 19 and 20 year olds?) would be taken care of. Unfortunately, some churches enforce a rule that makes it harder for church members to feed the missionaries. Some of these families were told to only have the missionaries over when there was a possibility of a convert. That meant, unless there was someone present whom the missionaries could recruit into the church, then the families shouldn't be having the missionaries over for dinner. And what Mormon family would be comfortable enough to invite unsuspecting friends over for a religious conversion? You'd run out of friends real quick! Not to mention that some these regions the missionaries serve have very few church members to feed them.

When I first heard about that, that made me so mad. It was supposed to be an incentive to make the missionaries work harder to find new converts. But it was just a terrible thing to to do. Missionaries don't have money. The only dinners they can rely on for sure are the Sunday dinners that church members give them. For the rest of the week, they have to live off whatever money their families manage to send them. And most of these families are either very poor or are under the false impression that their kids are being fed well. I was livid when I found out what had happened to my friends. They were in a foreign country, toiling long hours in harsh environments, trying to spread their faith among some of the most hostile regions of the world, and they were starving! I was mad at myself, too, for not sending more care packages. Had I known what they were going through, I would've sent more care packages and money. I asked them why they didn't tell me about their harsh conditions, but they said, they didn't want me to worry. At the time, they really thought it was part of their work to endure, that it was more important to spread their faith.

Some of them have stopped being active Mormons. A few have given up their faith all together. But looking at these young fellas standing at my door, I couldn't help but be reminded of the challenges my friends faced. So, I offered them a little respite from their work. I wish that someone had shown my friends such small kindness. Besides, these fellas were someone's child, and at the very least, I could be a good host to them for the little time that they were in my home.

I had offered them some water (I kept bottled water for my visiting friends who look down on drinking from the tap--snob bastards! Bottled water comes from the tap!). I also looked in the fridge and realized that I had the Kool Aid I had made a few days earlier and offered that as well. They wanted the Kool Aid. So I gave them some and told them that I was going to get them something to eat. I had made some pork chops--I had seasoned them with the seasoning packets I had discovered earlier in the week. I put them in the slow cooker the night before and they were done shortly before I went grocery shopping in the morning. I nuked some potatoes and reheated some fried chicken I had left in the fridge. I didn't have any rice prepared, but I did have some corn tortillas, so I heated those up as well. I told them I had ice cream in the fridge for dessert.

We sat at the dinner table and ate and talked. They drank Kool Aid while I had tap water. They drank a whole pitcher and a half and I was glad that they liked it. They were curious about the flavor, so I told them I mixed flavors, and that they were drinking orange strawberry. I found out that both of them were from the Midwest part of the country, although from different states. They were also starting out in college when they got the call to be missionaries. Typical, I thought to myself; my friends were also starting out in college when they got their calling. It's really easy to recruit from that age group, because they're young, dedicated, and malleable; they've not quite formed their own views on the world and are so naive and optimistic. All that youthful energy and drive is a boon to those who give the orders. Kind of like the military, I suppose.

The fellas were curious as to how I knew about Mormons, so I told them that where I grew up, it was a small community, but there was a variety of beliefs and the prevailing custom was to live and let live. So long as you weren't hurting anyone, you believe what you want to believe. Naturally, a lot of different faiths had thrived. Most of my friends growing up had very different religions, but we all respected each other's faith and would visit different churches from time to time. They were surprised when I told them that I even went to seminary one year--it's like Mormon Sunday school, except it took place on school days very early in the morning. I was surprised when I actually won an award and recognition for my work in seminary that year. But I think it was because I was the only one who did the work that year. I was curious to learn more about this religion. The other Mormon kids barely stayed awake for the lessons, much less kept up with the assignments.

It was during high school, a period when I underwent a spiritual awakening. I was curious as to why people believed and what exactly they believed in. What was their religion all about? Did they believe because they were told to do so, indoctrinated at such a young age that it became second nature, to never question the teachings? Or was it an epiphany or a life altering experience that led them to these beliefs? I visited and explored so many different religions during that time; and some of them had the added bonus of free food and feasts when I attended. It was wonderful time of learning and discovery for me, and to this day, religion and culture still fascinate me.

After the meal, we talked some more before the missionaries got ready to leave. They thanked me for my hospitality and invited me to their church. I said thanks, but chances are, I probably wouldn't be attending any time soon. Besides, I had invited them in because I wanted to; it was the least I could do to show these visitors some Southern hospitality, to temper the hostility they've no doubt encountered in their work. Before they left, I took out a small knapsack that I had gotten from work during a conference. It was one of those freebies they hand out along with pens and pads and other trinkets, most marked with a company logo. I had kept it, not knowing what to do with it. I'm pack rat and I tend to hold on to things, thinking I could reuse them; I don't like to waste things. But every few months I go through and sort and throw out the useless stuff and find uses for the other things. That way, I keep the clutter down.

So I took that knapsack, and I filled it with the cans of potato chips and bag of chocolate candies that I had bought this morning. I rarely buy potato chips anymore, but these cans were on sale for a dollar each; usually they cost two dollars. The bag of chocolate mini candies was on sale, too, and I was going to use it to flavor my oatmeal. That's right; chocolate candy flavored oatmeal! Mmmmm! Delicious! I guess I wasn't meant to enjoy my snack purchases, but they were going to be put to better use. I filled the knapsack with some cans of sardines, some tuna lunch kits, a box of raisins, a box of crackers, and a box of pop tarts. I gave the fellas the knapsack along with two large bottles of flavored water. They were surprised and thanked me for the meal and the knapsack. Their expressions reflected just how grateful and humbled they were. I wished them well on their endeavors and a safe return home. We shook hands and they both left. I hoped that they would be all right. I returned to putting away groceries and did some enjoyable things for the rest of the day.

Now it's the day after, Sunday, and I smiled at the thought that I did something nice for someone. I had fed someone's child and I had given the visiting missionaries some small glimpse of kindness and hospitality. There are still some nice people left in the world; and there are still those of us who carry on the art of Southern hospitality. The proof was in the half empty pitcher of Kool Aid in front of me.

I took a sip of that Kool Aid and my sense of smugness was immediately replaced by horror. This wasn't just my ordinary mixed Kool Aid! Nope. It had a familiar taste to it, one that I recognized immediately. You see, sometimes, when I mix Kool Aid, I add other stuff to it, like sliced fruit. Or alcohol. And this was alcohol. More specifically, the left over vodka that I had found earlier in the week. Yes, I sometimes like to mix vodka with my Kool Aid, usually when I have run out of stuff to mix with the vodka. I forgot that I had poured the rest of the vodka into the Kool Aid when I made it. I hadn't made such a concoction in a long time.

No wonder the missionaries liked it! They were probably feeling a good buzz the rest of the day. I felt a little guilty, because Mormons can't drink alcohol; it's against their religion. I may have wrecked their chances of getting into the highest level of their heavens. Oops. I hope not. Well, maybe they won't be judged so harshly. After all, they didn't know what they were drinking, so it's not their fault. And it wasn't like I was intentionally trying to tempt them and make them sin. I'm not that evil; really, I'm not. I was trying to do something nice for them. So much for good intentions.

Sigh.

They say they road to hell is paved with good intentions. Oh well, nothing I can do about it now. What's done is done. And then I thought; well, maybe it's not so bad. After all, what was Jesus' first miracle? He turned water into wine (John 2: 1-11). That's right. Jesus' first miracle was to turn water into wine at a wedding! Jesus drank wine. That's how he started his ministry and that's how he ended it. So I finished the rest of that vodka Kool Aid and pondered the meaning of life. Then I went back to sleep, with a hint of a buzz and a happy feeling that the universe has a sense of humor and all was right with the world again.

 Related Links:
The Boys of Summer
Brothers and Sisters
Once was enough
I say again, once was enough
The thing about fathers
Veterans Day reflection
Soda Pop

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Cheers for the New Year

Two hour drive to the big city: $20

Parking: $10

Drinks: $20

Breakfast tacos: $5

Fireworks and Dancing and Meeting New People: Free

Having fun with great friends: Priceless

I like New Year's Eve. It's perhaps my favorite holiday. Growing up, we used to go to a New Year's Eve service that was usually let out before midnight. I was too excited from the fireworks to go to sleep, so I stayed up late. We usually had a midnight meal to welcome in the New Year--usually tea, sandwiches, and dessert. When I became a preteen, I got to stay out late with my older brother and cousin--just on the sidewalk in front of the house, setting off fire crackers and fireworks. But still, it was something--I didn't feel like a small child; I felt like I was on my way to becoming an adult.

When I left home and started living on my own, I was off that New Year's Eve. It was a sort of trade off. The workers with families took Christmas off, so some of us had to cover their shifts. I didn't mind, since I was so far away from home. In fact, that first New Year's Eve on my own was fun. Just a bunch of us guys and gals, going out downtown to party by the river. Some of us weren't old enough to drink, but we got our hands on some alcohol, drinking before we took the bus downtown. We walked from one end of the river walk to the other, then did the countdown and watched the fireworks. We hit different clubs and bars, just laughing, dancing, and making new friends. People seem somewhat friendlier and more optimistic and happier this night. Maybe it was the general sense of hope and good will; maybe it was the alcohol. We stayed out til the sun came up, went to a fast food breakfast place before taking the bus back home.

Every New Year's has been celebrated differently: Concerts. Amusement parks. Block parties. House parties. Last minute road trips to visit different cities: Miami, Atlanta, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Austin, Chicago, and so much more. It's always fun, and it's always with a different crowd every year. I like it. The variety makes it interesting, and you never know what's going to happen; such a perfect way to welcome in a new year.

My favorite part of celebrating New Year's is that feeling of exuberance, that optimism, looking forward to what the future could bring. If you're a student, you know the school year's half over; it's all downhill from here. If you had a good year, you can look back and smile, and you look forward to another one full of promise and more good times. If you had a tough year, you can breathe easy, knowing that you can start anew. You get a clean slate, to try something different. It's about possibilities. The first New Year's week is the honeymoon period before getting back to real life. But it's the break you need to evaluate, appreciate, and make plans for any new directions and changes.We can't change the past, but we can learn from it. We don't know how the future will turn out, but we can plan for it. All we have is the now, and New Year's festivities is a reminder to live in the now, celebrate the good things in your life, dream big, and smile, because you're still here, and you've the chance to do what makes you happy and enjoy being alive. I hope your New Year is off to a good start. I hope your New Year turns out to be a great one.