Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Boys of Summer

August is coming soon. Summer seems to be winding down. Though, I doubt the heat will ease up in the coming months. There's a drought that's been going on in these parts, far longer than anyone had anticipated. I can't remember the last time it rained--just normal rain, not the stormy ones that come with the hurricanes. Although, given they way this heat wave seems to be going, a hurricane would almost be a welcomed relief...almost.

It's a dry heat, which is a nice change from the usual humidity we are accustomed to, from living so close the Gulf. Still, too much heat can drive anyone insane. The grass is brown, dry and dead, kindling that's too easily lit. Wildfires are breaking out almost daily; thick black smoke covers parts of the roads that run outside the city. The earth is scorched; the rivers are dwindling; and the harsh wind blows only dust and desperation, no relief to a parched landscape begging for respite. Times like this makes a man wonder. And when you can't leave town or don't plan on being six feet underground to escape this heat, the only thing you can do to keep your sanity is to seek refuge in the depths of your mind. Mind over matter. Sometimes, the daydreams and memories are what keep us going when reality gets too tough.

I've always liked summer. Of course, we didn't really have four seasons where I was growing up. We had two official seasons--rainy and dry, and for the life of me, I couldn't tell which was which. We had rain and sunshine all throughout the year. Of course, living by the coast, the only season we all paid attention to was hurricane season.

I luved summer, because school was out. School was drag. I mean, I liked meeting my friends and learning some new things, and I did enjoy the great food served at the school cafeteria--best pizzas ever! What I really hated was getting up for school. I was never a morning person. I struggle to wake up and I'm really slow in the mornings--still am! I'm also not a big fan of homework. So when summer came around, I was happy, because I could sleep in late and stay out a little later, hanging out with my friends.

In my house, I was loud and aggressive. I had to be. In a house full of older siblings who were mostly adults and teenagers, you had to speak up if you wanted to be heard. This was especially true when you're of the few who was just starting out grade school. Outside my house, I was a shy kid, kept quiet, and mostly followed my brother's lead. He was a year older, bigger than me, which made him think he was such a tough guy. I was faster and hardier, which made for some memorable sibling rivalry. Most times, I ignored him, let him take the lead. Other times, I'd aggravate him, on purpose, because he pissed me off or I just felt like being a brat. We fought a lot in our house, but once we were outside, we had each other's back; no one messed with one of us without getting it from the rest of us.

There were a number of boys our age in the neighborhood. A lot of us went to the same church, dreaded Sunday school and all those church play rehearsals that took up a chunk of our free time. Some of us went to the same school; others went to a private school. Summer was the only time we could all hang out together and do things we couldn't do during the school year. Of course, in any group of boys, there is a hierarchy. There's a group leader who decides what we're going to do and how things should be done. The rest of us follow; those who didn't follow risked getting kicked out or punished. And just like any pack group, a group leader's position could always be challenged.

My brother hung out with the other boys who were a year or two older. I used to tag along with him til he kept ditching me. I was up in a tree one summer when I found myself arguing with a kid from across the street. I'm not sure how it started, only we called each other names and then threatened to kick each other's butt. I think we were about 6 or 7 years old at the time. Well, he dared me to climb down the tree and meet him in the street for a fight. Now, I'd never fought anyone other than my brother before, so I was kind of nervous. Heck, I was scared. This kid was taller than me. And this being a fight, word got around quickly and a small crowd of kids gathered to see what was going down.

An older kid--I think he was a teenager--appointed himself the referee over the fight. The crowd started cheering for a fight. The tall kid pushed me hard. I staggered back, uncertain. Then I got mad, made a fist and punched him right in the cheek. He fell back, surprised. He rubbed his cheek then jumped at me, and I punched him hard again. He fell down again, then he got up and said that I was going to be sorry; he was going to get his best friend to kick my ass. He ran next door and soon returned with this big kid. Actually, he was a fat kid. Though, we were in the same grade, I knew he had been held a year back, so he was actually older. And he was the local bully to the rest of us. Now, I was really nervous.

The bully came up, gave me a dirty look and grabbed my t shirt and shook me. So I punched him as hard as I could in the face. He was surprised! So I kept up punching him in the face while he ripped my t shirt! The teenage referee stepped in, separated us for few seconds while the crowd of noisy kids were yelling all sorts of things. The bully was pissed. He came at me and tried to choke me, tried to throw me down, but I twisted out of his grasp, and resumed hitting him in the face. I was furious that he had torn my shirt! I gave him a good hard punch to the nose and he staggered back. This time, I didn't stop and gave him a quick kick to the stomach. And when he doubled over, I gave him another hard hit to the side of his face and down he went. I was about to kick him again when the teenage referee grabbed me, pulled me away and declared me the winner.

But I was furious! I was so mad that I could feel the my eyes start to water. I was pissed that the teenager was holding me back, I wasn't done fighting that bully! I still wanted to kick his ass! The bully was crying. He got up and went home. The tall kid went with him. The teenage ref patted my head and congratulated me. The crowd had gone silent. Everyone was in awe that a scrawny kid like me took on two bigger kids and won. As soon as the teen ref released me, I went home. I sat out on the porch, trying to figure out what to do. My Mom was going to be pissed off when she finds out that my t shirt got torn. I was going to get a spanking, that's for sure.

Then I heard my brother enter the side door and talk to my Mom. He told her that he heard some kids tried to beat me up, but when he got there, they were gone. But he was going to find them, and beat them up! My mother was slightly alarmed, started calling for me. And she told my brother to hush. I went inside, thinking, well, might as well get my spanking over with. But I didn't get spanked. Instead, my Mom checked me to make sure that I was all right. She didn't care that I had a torn t shirt. She only asked me to go clean up and put on another shirt. I was relieved.

My brother, in the meantime, did go looking for those two kids and he did beat them both up. And in a single summer afternoon, my brother and I became the new neighborhood bullies. The fat kid moved away at the end of the summer. His parents were ministers who were asked to lead a church in a town far away. Last I heard, he also became a minister--and he also got fatter. The tall kid and I, under the advice and supervision of the teen ref, shook hands and made peace. No grudges. We started hanging out and became friends. He was the first friend I had ever made. He's actually one of my best friends, and the one I've been friends with the longest. He's also still taller than me.

Over the course of the summer, I made more friends with the other neighborhood kids. We often played games together, explored nearby farms, and just climbed trees or built forts in the backyard. When we got older, we spent our summers camping out, especially when we were allowed to stay out later. Of course, some of us were learning the art of sneaking out after bed time. I was really good at it. Sometimes, we'd have a few friends over in the backyard, with a small fire, singing along to the songs playing on the AM radio, watching the stars. Stars are brighter in the countryside. You can see more of them in the wide open skies.

During camp outs, we'd tell each other scary stories, listened to the older kids repeat urban legends, and then talked about everything and anything--what you want to be when you grow up, who'd win in a fight between Superman and the Incredible Hulk, the annoying girls down the way. Nowadays, when we get together, we discuss adult things. We talk about politics and the environment and work--along with what you want to be when you grow up, who'd win in a fight between Spiderman and Batman, and those hotties we saw down the way.

The summer I was ten, most of my friends, along with my brother, joined the local kids baseball team. I didn't want to join, because they had practice and games on Saturdays! That was way too much work for summer, not to mention a waste of valuable cartoon time. So, I was usually by myself til practice or a game was over. I spent some time reading books or going exploring by myself.

That was also the summer teen ref got a truck. He saw me sitting by the front gate and asked me if I wanted to go to the store with him. I was excited to go on a ride with him in his truck, so I said yes and off we went to the store and back. He bought me a soda. Bonus! Later on that week, he asked me if I wanted to go to the beach. My Mom said it was okay, so off to the beach I went with teen ref. It was the first time that I was at the beach without one of my older relatives supervising.

Teen ref and his friends hung out, played games, surfed, and danced on the beach. I had a blast! It was so neat being around these high schoolers, and they were really nice to me. Teen ref took me around with him a few more times that summer. He was an only child, and I think he liked having me around like a little brother. He was the coolest guy on the block. The neighborhood luved him. He got an athletic scholarship and went to a school in one of the big cities far away. He eventually settled in a big city and he was a big hero to us--someone we knew made it out of our small town.

There's a magic that comes with summer. It's nice to be able to think and explore freely. Many days and nights are spent daydreaming, fantasizing about the future, what could be. It's a time of great reflection and adventure, of hope and wishes, believing that some day, one day, your dreams could come true. And when you're one of the boys of summer, you know that anything is possible.

 Related Links:
Brothers and Sisters
Once was enough
I say again, once was enough
The Good Intentioned Samaritan
The thing about fathers
Veterans Day reflection 
Soda Pop
A good jacket keeps you warm and dry

Monday, July 27, 2009

Common Ground

I was struggling to open the door with one hand when he appeared out of the darkness. It was late as usual. I had keys in one hand and a laundry basket full of clean, neatly folded clothes that I sure as hell wasn't going to set down on the dirty floor or steps. As soon as I got the keys in the keyhole, I braced the laundry basket between one thigh and the doorway and used my other hand to turn the door knob to open the door.

He didn't follow me in as I dropped the laundry basket on the sofa. He never came inside, even with the door left wide open. Rather, he stood out on the porch in the darkness, greeting me just once and waiting for my acknowledgment. I hadn't seen him in a while, but that was normal, as it happens quite frequently.

Some days, it's as if he'd never leave, always entertaining a crowd, the life of the party. He can be quite loud, but charming if the size of the group that surrounded him was any indication. Late at night, I'd hear him and his friends making a lot of noise, sometimes singing, a few times fighting. He's a popular one, that's for sure. I'd often find him perched comfortably on the hood of my car, as if it were his own. It irritated me sometimes, watching him sitting on my car, without a care in the world, like I had bought that car just for him. Sometimes, his company would join him. But they always moved away from my car when I needed to use it. They'd hop off, he'd give me a quick glance and off they went to hang out somewhere else.

Then there were days when he'd be gone for a while, often disappearing for long stretches. It'd be silent then, without his familiar voice or the sight of him chilling in the shade if he happened to be alone. I'd enjoy the peace and quiet for a few days, but then I'd wonder where he could be, what he was doing. Where he goes, I don't know. I never ask. At times, I'd think he was gone for good. And just when I've forgotten about him, he appears out of nowhere, just like tonight.

We weren't really friends but we weren't exactly strangers either. We shared a sense of familiarity with each other. It comes from sharing a living space. And while I didn't actually encourage him to stay around, I didn't exactly object to his presence either. Sure he was annoying sometimes, but I just accepted him for who he was, just as nature intended. I'd laugh at his antics. I'd see him frolicking with his friends. I'd catch him making out with the ladies--a few times with the fellas. I suspect he's actually fathered a few young ones I'd seen around here. The authorities have come looking for him a few times. They've asked for help once to catch him, but he's a clever one, always managing to escape. I'd hate to think of what they'd do to him if they took him into custody. He needs to be free, to roam about.

There's a sense of independence and adventure in him that I recognize. And as much as I complain about his presence sometimes, the truth is, I see a lot myself in him--that zest for life, that restless spirit, that love for long naps on lazy days or taking chances, excited to explore new things and having fun. He's a little selfish and lazy sometimes, and maybe that's what irks me about him, because he reminds me that I'm a little selfish and lazy, too. And while I didn't seek out his friendship, I didn't wish him any harm either. I wasn't looking for any new friends, and I doubt he was looking for new ones either. But that didn't mean I couldn't be kind to him. Kindness is what makes us human.

So I fixed him a bowl of food and some water. I offered it to him, and he ate it, grateful for a simple meal. I wasn't sure how long he'd be around. Not that I'd ask him. We didn't really talk all that much. But we had an understanding. We sat on the front porch, lost in our thoughts, content in each other's company for now. He may stay the night and be around for a while. Or he just might take off again. It's all a mystery. But that's okay. I wouldn't want it any other way.

He is a cat after all.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Planet of the Apes

While we are celebrating the monumental achievement of man's landing on the moon, let us also take this time to remember the many animals whose sacrifices made space travel possible. Since the 1940s, animals have been sent into outer space to test out theories and work out a plan for man to venture into space.

A lot of animals were sent into space. Some of them are still out there! Some came back alive. Others didn't. Some were implanted with probes! A few of them survived, only to die on the operating table when scientists removed the probes and tissues for study. Bastards!

Get me out of here!

A variety of animals were sent into space, everything from fruit flies to guinea pigs to frogs. Americans preferred to send out chimpanzees and monkeys.

Many monkeys and apes were sent into space. A few made it back. Some didn't survive.

You bastards! Some day, apes will rule the world!

We told you we'd rule the world some day! Prepare to be probed!

The French sent cats into space. Why? Because they're French, that's why! And also because they sent rats into space in an earlier mission.

Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir

The Russians sent a tortoise. Why? Because it's the wisest and most powerful kung fu master of all!

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.

But the true pioneer of space travel is Laika, the mixed Russian dog who was the first animal, the first organism to reach space! Laika was the first being from Earth to enter space on Nov 3, 1957 on Sputnik II. She was dubbed Muttnik by the American press. People all over the world celebrated her accomplishment, her incredible journey; and they mourned her loss, when it became known that she would not survive more than a few days in space.

For decades, it was believed that Laika survived a few days in space til she ran out of oxygen. It was believed that food was laced with poison to let her die a painless death. But the truth is more horrifying. Laika was intentionally sent to her death in space.

In 2002, it was revealed that Laika probably died from stress and overheating a few hours after launch. Sputnik II was hastily designed and put together. The Cold War was in full swing and the Space race was heating up. The Russian leadership had pressured scientists to launch in 4 weeks to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. There was no time to come up with an effective design or solution to return Laika safely to Earth. The booster rocket never separated from Sputnik II, causing the capsule carrying Laika to overheat.

When word got out that there never was a plan to bring Laika back, people the world over began to protest against the cruel treatment of animals in the space programs. Thus, Laika, the first real astronaut had also become a martyr for animal rights.

After the fall of communism, Oleg Gazenko, the scientist who picked and trained Laika, later said,

"Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it. We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog."

In Moscow and other parts of the world, there are monuments dedicated to the memory of this brave dog. Some nations have issued stamps to commemorate the beloved space dog. Laika's sacrifice made it possible for the first human to venture into space. We did not reach the moon alone. We were standing on the efforts of the many animals who went before us. As we remember the amazing feat of man's landing on the moon, we must also take time to remember and honor all those animals whose service and sacrifice paved the way to space.

Monday, July 20, 2009


It's the 40th anniversary of the Moon Landing, when man first set foot on the moon. It's an incredible feat, the culmination of years of hard work, sacrifice, and determination. It's an amazing achievement. When I was younger, I used to daydream about being an astronaut. I wanted to blast into outer space; I'd pretend to be on the moon, exploring the exotic landscape. I used to look up at the moon and stars and lose myself in wonders of these heavenly bodies, imagining myself up there, discovering new and fantastic things.

One of my favorite places to visit in Houston is the NASA Space Center (Johnson Space Center). I remember being really excited at actually getting to see the Houston Space Center, the one from "Houston, we have a problem." It's an incredible experience to actually tour the site that's still in operation. I was awed by looking at the actual satellites and rockets and equipment they used (and still use) for space exploration.

It was so cool being surrounded by millions of dollars worth of technology and models and equipments. But you know what the most expensive thing was in the entire Space Center? It wasn't the rockets or the moon buggies or lunar landers. Nope. The most expensive thing in the Space Center (and in the whole world) was a small piece of moon rock the size of a small coin! That's right. That tiny moon rock was worth more than any diamonds or gems or advanced technology in the world! It was stuck in a glass case under security, and you could feel its surface with your fingers, but you couldn't pry the dang thing off--I tried repeatedly!

They had so much cool stuff to see and explore at the Houston Space Center. They had movies where you could watch the progress and the exciting realization of the man's mission to the moon. And they had these different tours, where you get on a tram, and you go into the actual place where research and development in space travel is taking place. If you visit during the week, you can actually see astronauts training for space missions! Some of them might be working the controls for the mock International Space Station or the shuttle. One tour even has the option of eating lunch at the astronauts mess hall.

You can see the actual old space rockets and capsules from the previous space missions. On display were the Mercury and Gemini and Apollo capsules the astronauts used to get back to earth. Those were the ones that crashed in the ocean and were retrieved by ships. They even have this huge Saturn rocket on display!

But the coolest experience for me was to see the old mission control center! It was so unreal being in that room that planned and carried out the mission to the moon! I was looking at the old, huge, outdated computers and whispered to my friend how amazing it was that my laptop was more powerful than all those old NASA computers put together. And then the tour guide said the same thing a few minutes later! I was like, "Cool!"

It's unbelievable that my old laptop has more processing power than all those huge old computers that plotted the path to and from the moon! It makes the achievement all the more amazing, when you realize just how daring and smart those NASA people were!

We also got to see the new (current) Mission Control Center, where they actually monitor the current space missions. There was a countdown clock. The tour guide said that's so they would know when to wake up the astronauts to start their work day in outer space! Can you imagine an outer space wake up call?

There were also some surprises at the Space Center. XL has an excellent post about the Moon Missions. He also mentions that he remembers when the Johnson Space Center was a cow pasture. Well, guess what? It's still a cow pasture! That's right! Mooooooo! They have cattle at the Houston Space Center! Longhorns to be exact. Now, being that I went to a rival school, the only way that I can support Longhorns is if they're being served to me medium rare to well done or chicken fried! Mmmmm...It was so weird but fitting seeing cattle next to space rockets. It's so Texas and American at the same time.

I really like going to the Houston Space Center. It reminds me of the amazing things human beings are capable of doing, that when we come together, we can take to the heavens. The moon landing is one of man's greatest achievements. It is an incredible feat, a great testament to humanity's ingenuity, imagination, and the indomitable human spirit.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Clean Break

I've been busy this week. And I've been dreading this weekend. It's that time again to go through and purge all the stuff I've accumulated. I'm kind of a pack rat. I can't seem to bring myself to throw things away, especially if they're still working or in good condition. I don't like to waste stuff. I try to reuse them or at least think of a way to re purpose them. Old clothes get donated or recycled into wash rags. Plastic bags from groceries become liners for the small wastebaskets. Newspapers become cleaning rags for glass and mirrors. I save the large oversize big gulp cup from the gas station soda fountain; I wash and reuse it at home. I just fill it up once and it lasts the rest of the meal. I have regular glasses but I use them for company.

I wish I could say that everything I've kept is useful, but the truth is, a lot of it is just useless junk. I have a bunch of magazines and newsletters just piling up in the corner. The boxes that held the appliances I've bought are taking up space in the closets. I have lids for Tupperware long gone and plastic containers that no longer have lids. The same can be said for kitchenware--I've got lids that match no pots and pans that I never use. All of it is taking up space.

So about every three months, I go through my stuff and purge all the junk. It's a lot of work, but it's so worth it. Besides, I hate having clutter all over the place. Still, it's never easy for me to part with some of these things. But I have to remind myself that I don't need it. It's time for a clean break. Speaking of clean breaks, I'm also having to deal with getting rid of someone, someone I used to be friends with a few years ago.

It's never easy breaking up with people. There's really no easy or right way. Once I made the foolish mistake of listening to some female friends. They persuaded me that that I should go over to the girl's apt and break up with her there, face to face, because she would need the comfort of her home and a way to reach out to her friends for support. So like an idiot, I follow their advice, only to end up with a vase tossed at me and a shard that cut two inches along my forearm. I still have the scar. And when I saw my female friends, I told them that was the last time that I ever take any break up advice from them!

I've also been told that honesty is the best policy when it comes to breaking up. Yeah, I don't think so. Once again, it was another female friend who told me this crap. I don't think it's necessary to be honest with someone when you break up with them. Once, I briefly dated a woman who didn't shave her armpits. I tried to be cool about it, because she was really fun. But she had more hair in her underarms than I did. And when we went out dancing one night, she lifted her arms and twirled about. My eyes were drawn to her armpits. She had used a deodorant that left white flakes, and it looked like she had those puffy, white powdered pastries glued to her armpits. It was not a pretty picture. So I broke up with her, telling her that I wasn't ready for anything serious. I sure as hell wasn't going to tell her that her hairy armpits freaked me out. That was my issue; she was fine with her armpit hair. What would be the point of telling the truth? I'd only hurt her more. I maybe a shallow jackass, but I certainly refuse to be complete A-hole.

If I've learned anything from my previous experiences, it's that there's no right way to break up with someone--and I may need to stop listening to my female friends, or get some wiser ones. So now, my current method of breaking up with people is to just cut off complete communication--no phone calls, no letters, no showing up at the same places. It's cold, but I still haven't figured out a way to break up with people without anyone getting hurt--especially me!

It's worked very well with people that I don't like. If you can't say anything nice about someone, then don't say anything at all. Most of them get the hint. Except this ex friend who keeps calling me, leaving me text messages--none of them have been returned or acknowledged. I'm hoping she'll eventually get the hint that I really don't want her in my life. If there's an easier way to break up, I still haven't found it. I'm cleaning house this weekend, getting rid of the mess and stress in my home. I'm doing the the same in my personal life.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Origin of Specious

I like babies. I mean, they're cute, they smell nice, and they have really great smiles and infectious laughter. It's fun to play with them, watch them roll around or crawl or try to walk, stumbling, fumbling, and getting back up. They talk nonsense, throw up, and cry and giggle for no apparent reason sometimes. It's like watching little tiny drunks, except they're so much cuter and easier to pick up from the floor.

I've helped raised a number of them over the years. I know it's not all fun, I mean, they do need to be fed, burped, bathed, and put to sleep--that I don't mind so much. But they do need to be changed and they do cry a lot sometimes--that I do mind a little. And as much as I luv holding them, playing with them, or taking them out for a stroll, at the end of the day, I'm really glad that I don't have one. They're a lot of work and responsibility, and I'm not quite ready to change my life and be responsible for another human being--I'm barely responsible enough to take care of myself.

I was hanging out with a few friends, grilling some food and listening to some music. We were out in the back, under the shade, laughing, talking, drinking. It was mostly single adults; but a few others stopped by and brought their kids. One was a newborn baby, two months old, and everyone oohed and ahhed over him. A few people took turns holding the baby, admiring him as he just laid quietly. Of course, when I held the baby, the baby's older brother, a child about 4 years old asked me, "Where do babies come from?"

Oye! What do I say? Everyone was quiet, looking at me, waiting along with the 4 year old for the answer. I looked to the kid's parents, but they were smirking, clearly enjoying the befuddled look on my face. Hey, they're the parents. Shouldn't they be answering these questions? It was clear that no one else would step in and answer or at least distract this kid. So I repeated the same answer my mother told me, when I was that age and asked that question, "Babies come from the hospital."

The adults started giggling. Luckily, the kid seemed satisfied and wandered off. One of my friends said, "You just lied to that little boy!"

I replied, "Hey, I didn't lie to the kid. This baby did come from the hospital where he was born. Besides, it'd be wrong for me to tell that child any lies; that job belongs to his parents!"

After my mother told me that babies come from the hospital, every time we went to the hospital and passed by the nursery, I'd ask my Mom, "Can we get a baby today?"

To which she answered, "No, they're too expensive."

Once I asked, "Well, how much do they cost?"

She replied, "Five dollars."

"Wow," I said, "They are expensive!"

And when my sister came home with my newborn niece and I asked her, "How much did your baby cost?"

She answered, "Ten dollars."

And I said, "Wow! That's a really expensive baby!"

And people wonder why I have trust issues with my family.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Man in a Modern World

It's hard being a man in the modern world. The roles and expectations keep changing as the world keeps on turning. Sometimes, it's a good thing; other times, I'm not so sure. When you think you've found your place, you've got your groove, something happens that makes you realize that you're out of tune, out of step, maybe out of place with the rest of the world. It's all very confusing at times, makes me wonder whether I've lost my way or if I am being left behind.

I was at a dinner party when my cellphone rang. Ordinarily, I would've turned the thing off, but I had arrived straight from work and forgot to turn it off. I excused myself from the table and headed outside to have a short conversation with a friend, letting her know I'd call her back before heading back inside to rejoin the other guests. I returned to the table, sat down, only to have the host, a friend, ask if everything was all right. I replied that it was. When she asked who it was that called, I said just a friend.

She raised an eyebrow before telling me,"You always leave the room when you talk on your phone. It makes me wonder what secrets you're hiding."

That got the attention of the other guests, the table conversations stopped as they all looked at me. I just smiled, let out a small laugh and said, "It's just courtesy."

I could see the puzzled expressions on the other guests faces, but I didn't elaborate on my answer. The truth was, I didn't know a polite way to tell people that I thought it was rude to answer and talk loudly on a cellphone in the presence of company. A cellphone is just like a regular landline phone. The same rules of courtesy apply: Excuse yourself from company to answer a ringing telephone. A private conversation needs to stay private. Let your caller know that you're in the presence of company and unless it's an emergency or a long distance call, you will get back to them.

Not everyone wants to hear you talking on the telephone, putting out your business. Although, I don't think most people realize that when they speak on their cellphones in public, their conversation is heard by everyone around them. Sometimes, it's just loud and annoying. And I get irritated sometimes when I'm talking to someone and their cellphone keeps ringing, constantly interrupting the conversation. Usually, I excuse myself and move on. Partly, because I don't want to listen in on someone's call; and also, because I think it's a little rude to keep breaking a conversation with a person because of interrupting cellphone calls.

I feel the same way about texting while talking to company. It's just rude. Don't try to text or talk on the phone while in the presence of company. You may think that you're impressive, holding two conversations with different people, multitasking. But it's just rude. The person on the other line or receiving texts may not notice, but the pauses in conversation with company are very noticeable. You may not think so, but trust me, they're awkward and long pauses, and seeing you text or talk on the cellphone gives the impression that: One, you don't care. Two, you're being disrespectful, wasting the other person's time by not giving your full attention or participation in the face to face conversation. I just excuse myself and walk away in such situations. I figured, well, the texting or cellphone call must really be important, so let them focus on that.

I guess I'm old school. Never really thought of myself as such, but it's true, given how I've noticed that things that I thought were common courtesy just aren't so common anymore. I still open doors for women. At work, some of them stare at me blankly, wondering what I'm doing, holding the door open for them. Some just express shock that people still do that. A few have told me that I don't need to do that anymore. But I still do. It's second nature to me.

On the buses and trains, I still offer my seat to the elderly, the injured, the ladies and small children. Although, it's been quite a while since anyone actually took up my offer. Most people just smile and say they're fine and remain standing. Recently, I was on the bus with a friend. It was a holiday schedule, so there were fewer buses running, making for a crowded ride on this bus. An elderly woman and her daughter ended up standing next to our seats. I whispered to my friend that I was going to offer the elderly lady my seat.

My friend suddenly had this horrified look on her face. She narrowed her eyes and whispered fiercely, "Don't!" I was unsure if I had heard her correctly, but she continued, "Don't give her your seat! Why would you do that?"

I was a little surprised by her reaction. I didn't think the old lady looked dangerous. She didn't smell funny or look dirty, so I was confused by my friend's reaction. Was it just an issue of personal space? Did she not want to sit next to a stranger? Honestly, the bus ride was going to be about twenty minutes. I was unsure of what to do. I felt conflicted for a few minutes. Do I give in to my friend's demand, respect her wish? Or do I go ahead with my own intention? In five minutes, I made up my mind. I went ahead and offered my seat to the elderly lady, and in the corner of my eyes I could see my friend stiffening in her seat. She was not happy, but I didn't care.

The truth was, I would've felt terrible for not offering the elderly lady my seat. Even worse, I'd've felt upset at myself for not following my own instincts, doing what I felt was right. I am what I am. So I went ahead and asked the elderly lady to take my seat. She smiled, thanked me, and politely refused. I offered again, but she assured me that she was fine. I repeated the same offer to the elderly lady's daughter, but she also politely refused. I was happy that I offered. I felt better. My friend was quiet for the rest of the bus ride. Later on during lunch, she spoke, saying that she knew that the old lady would refuse my offer, that's why she thought I shouldn't have bothered. I just told her that I was being courteous.

I suppose I'm a relic of a bygone era. Times have changed. What used to be common courtesy is but a faded memory, almost irrelevant in today's fast paced world. It makes me wonder if I too am becoming irrelevant. It's hard to be a man in a modern world. The rules keep changing in the game we keep playing. Are there any winners? I'm not sure. I suppose I have a lot of catching up to do to keep up with this modern world, to find my place and try to fit in. But then again, I'm not sure if I want to catch up; maybe I don't want to.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Every now and then at work, we go through team building sessions, designed to improve morale and productivity. I'm not sure if it works; people still bitch and complain afterwards, and work conditions don't really improve. But I don't mind going--I'm getting paid to be somewhere else, eating free food, and likely getting some free trinkets, like pens and post its and mugs.

At this particular session, we took an online personality test--I luv those! Pop psychology to be taken with a grain of salt. I consider it good fun. It's a very short test on Jung Personality Types.

Here's the address if you're curious:

Now, I remember taking a really longer version in college--pages and pages of the same crap rehashed in so many different ways. It got on my nerves! I also took a similarly long one when I first started work for another company so many years ago. I didn't remember my scores or my personality types. Probably because I don't take these things too seriously. Maybe because I suspect my answers were skewed because I was tired and irritated by answering all those pages of questions, and in the end, I was just rushing through.

But here are my results from today's test:

Strength of the preferences %
1 62 12 44

Which means, according to the site:

"ENFJs are the benevolent 'pedagogues' of humanity. They have tremendous charisma by which many are drawn into their nurturant tutelage and/or grand schemes. Many ENFJs have tremendous power to manipulate others with their phenomenal interpersonal skills and unique salesmanship. But it's usually not meant as manipulation -- ENFJs generally believe in their dreams, and see themselves as helpers and enablers, which they usually are.

ENFJs are global learners. They see the big picture. The ENFJs focus is expansive. Some can juggle an amazing number of responsibilities or projects simultaneously...

ENFJs are, by definition, Js, with whom we associate organization and decisiveness...

ENFJs know and appreciate people. Like most NFs, (and Feelers in general), they are apt to neglect themselves and their own needs for the needs of others. They have thinner psychological boundaries than most, and are at risk for being hurt or even abused by less sensitive people. ENFJs often take on more of the burdens of others than they can bear." --

I guess this means I'm a people person. I do like people...til they get on my nerves.

Some famous ENFJ types include:

President Abraham Lincoln

President Barack Obama

Oprah Winfrey

Pope John Paul II

So, I guess this means I should either get into politics, build a media empire, or wear stylish robes and a hat to lead the masses. Hmmm, perhaps it's time for a career change.

Take the test, and tell me what's your Personality Type?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Postcards for the 4th of July

Today is Independence Day, the birth of the United States of America. On July 4, 1776, we declared our independence and went to war for our freedom and liberty. We were led by great leaders who had foresight and believed in the ideals of freedom and equality. And out of the long struggle and hardship, a new nation was born, with the ideals of liberty and justice for all.

Many doubted the survival of the new nation. And we've not always lived up to our ideals. A civil war nearly tore the nation apart. But a strong leader gave his life in the struggle to keep the nation whole.

President Lincoln did more than just freeing the slaves and preserving the nation. He fundamentally changed the national identity from "these" United States to "the" United States, one nation, one people, Americans all.

E Pluribus, Unum--Out of many, one. We are a nation of many people, natives and immigrants, come together as one.

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Emma Lazarus, 1883, The New Colossus, Statue of Liberty

We've accomplished some great things in cause of liberty and freedom.

Women are guaranteed the same rights as all American citizens.

Hey, just because I dress like a whore doesn't make it okay for you to stare at my ass!

But we've still got some ways to go.

We are faced with the challenges of dealing with our environment.

If you don't pick up your trash, I will cry a single, lonely tear.

And we're still faced with the ongoing struggle for human rights, equality for all Americans.

We're here! We're queer! Get used to it!

But let us take time today to remember our history and all the great things we've accomplished. We still have some ways to go in reaching our ideals, but we'll get there. So long as we believe in our ideals and work towards them, we'll get closer to making them a reality.

So Happy 4th of July, America! Enjoy the festivities and fireworks! Be happy and Be careful.

Whose child is that playing with the dynamite? Good Lord!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Jury Duty: Wheels of Justice

I've been busy lately because I've been called to civic duty. Last week I told you that I had to be at jury duty early Monday morning. I was scheduled to be there at 8 in the morning, but I got to the courthouse at 7 because I wanted good parking; preferably under a shady tree. The trees were at the far end of the parking lot, but given the heatwave and drought we're experiencing, I wanted to come back to a cool car, not a hot one. Of course, this being the gov't, jury duty didn't really start til about 8:30 am. The wheels of justice turn slow.

After the swearing in by the judge, we were randomly chosen into panels. I was the third person to arrive at the courthouse out the 150 people who showed up. However, I was the fourth to the last person to be picked on a panel. I found myself wedge between two Rubenesque women--and given how old and grumpy they were, they were probably original models for Rubens.

The one on the left was reading a Bible, preaching to the man on the other side. I pretended to be engrossed in reading so she wouldn't talk to me about Jesus. The one on the right was talking out loud about her dogs, that she needed to be home because a dog was pregnant--as if somehow her absence would cause the dog to suddenly stop being pregnant. I really didn't want to be stuck on a jury with these people.

I was hoping that since I was among the last few chosen, I'd be sent home. Unfortunately, we were informed that with all the court cases pending, we'd all be needed. Then to make matters worse, after waiting around for hours, we were told that we were on call and had to come back at nine the next day. Sigh.

Before I went home, I stopped at the mobile lab in front of the courthouse and donated blood. Might as well do something nice. I got a T shirt, cookies and juice, candies and a coupon for a free burger.

The next morning, I showed up early again to find good parking; but all the tree spots were taken. Dammit! Our panel had to wait before going up to the courtroom. Once again, I was wedged between the two big women. Bible lady on the left started preaching to the man next to her again, but he got up and went to the restroom. Smart fellow. I pretended to be reading again. But it was hard to ignore Bible lady's side fat pressing into my left arm. I could feel the rolls of body fat under her armpit jiggle against me as she flipped through her Bible.

Meanwhile, Dog lady on the right was going on about her dogs again. She was loud and annoying. I could smell the stench of cigarettes under the heavy perfume she used. Dog lady was bragging that this was one of her many times being called to jury duty, and the last few times, she had been picked. She reasoned that she was going to be picked again. This got Bible lady's interest, and she, too, began to brag that she also got picked a lot. It annoyed the hell out of me how they raised their voices to talk, just so other people could hear them. I was so thankful when the bailiff showed up and took us up to the courtroom.

At the courtroom, the judge and lawyers started to question us, trying to find out who would best serve on the jury. The judge was an old fellow, who started lecturing us on the history of the US judicial system and its roots in the Magna Carta and the French Indian War, the Last of the Mohicans movie, and the court systems of France, Argentina, and the Norman invasion of 1066. It was quite the history lesson and commentary. It was interesting, but I was thinking, Um, what does all this have to do with the case?

When he finally got back to the case, the lawyers took over and started to question us. Now, it was hinted that the case involved alcohol. Of course, this set off some people who were against alcohol, including Bible lady and Dog lady. Then, a few of us were questioned individually, including me! They asked about my job and they thought it was interesting how I had filled out the jury summons.

The judge really liked my answer. On the question of RACE: I put down 'American'! I told them, "Hey, that's what I am, that's who we are. We should be proud of being Americans. And if we go outside our borders and visit other countries, they know us as Americans, not African-American, not Asian-American, nor Hispanic-American. We're just Americans, period."

We were excused, and I was so sure my over the top show of American pride would disqualify me. Jurors who express strong opinions usually don't get picked to serve on a case. Bible lady and Dog lady announced confidently how they were sure they were going to be picked. Bible lady even dared me to bet against her being picked. How strange, I thought, Bible lady is against drinking alcohol, but not against gambling.

And when we came back in, I almost laughed out loud when Dog lady and Bible lady were passed over! The look of disbelief on their faces was too funny! Unfortunately, it was me who got picked to serve! Dammit! I should've lied and said I was against alcohol! Now I had to come back to actually serve on a jury. The wheels of justice just ran me over!

I was not happy to serve on a jury, but I showed up early, ready for the trial. I thought about wearing a tie, but then I didn't want to be mistaken for a defendant. The case took all day. I was happy for our hour and a half lunch break. The arguments were very persuasive on both sides. The witness testimony was compelling, as was the video evidence.

When the closing arguments were over, we went inside the jury room and discussed whether we vote Guilty or Not Guilty. Of course, everyone else formed an opinion in ten minutes. Not me. I was the hold out! I made them fetch evidence and sat there for an hour while I pondered my decision, going over the evidence. I was not going to rush into judgment. This was a serious case, and I needed to be sure that I would vote honestly and fairly. The scales of justice were in my hands. My decision to wait caused the other jurors to rethink their positions, and we started arguing our different views, as well as acted out some of the testimony. It was exciting and intense. Everyone was forced to examine their reasoning and really look at the evidence.

Within two hours, we finally came to an agreement. Did I think the guy did it? Probably. But there wasn't enough evidence. The testimony was compelling, but the video showed something completely different than what the prosecution argued. There just wasn't enough evidence, and since I had reasonable doubt, I voted Not Guilty. After we gave the judge our answer on document, the judge read the verdict, then thanked us, and court was adjourned. The lawyers wanted to ask us some questions afterward, and they were both curious as to why we took so long and requested the evidence. We gave them feedback and then left for home. It was all ready after 6 pm.

It had been a long day, but I have to admit that I was glad that I was able to serve. I took part in the workings of gov't. I had done my part to uphold the law and ensure justice. It was the perfect way to remind myself that democracy works when the people make it work. And I can look forward to celebrating the 4th of July, the birthday of our nation, with great pride, secure in and proud of the knowledge that I have done my part to make our nation stronger and little bit better.