Monday, July 17, 2006

Gerbil Jumble #3: I need a job

I love the San Francisco Chronicle. We get the paper seven days a week. This means I could do seven Jumbles a week, if I really wanted to. But usually I just read a few sections, occasionally pen a letter to the editor (I've had, like, four or five published!), and do the crosswords.

In the daily paper, one of the two crosswords is in the Classified section. So is the Jumble. So are the job listings. I need a job, as I've been voted off the proverbial island at the one that pays part of the rent and all of the health insurance. Sadly, there aren't a whole lot of listings in the paper for what I'm looking for. And don't even get me started on why I'm considering (at least temporarily) changing my field.

So pretty much every day I skim the classifieds and come up with nothing. Dejected, I move on to the crossword. If I still have energy, I do the Jumble. I had some extra energy today because my sixth-to-last day at work was, well, indescribable in a negative fasion, so I did this one and made my wife giggle like a schoolgirl:

It's too bad there aren't any jobs out there for people gifted in the incorrect solution of Jumbles.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

On choosing sides

In a nutshell: I don't care who's killing whom over what. People should not be killing each other.

Recent events in the Middle East have nudged my normally cheerful wife into a funk. Sometimes she's cranky, too, but she attributes this to my asking her how she's doing before the coffee is even made. I should know better, I suppose. But anyway, even before this latest game of "let's bomb the crap out of each other!" she seemed a lot more supportive of the Palestinians than of the Israelis.

Now, my wife is quite Christian and I'm (at least culturally) Jewish. So, as you might imagine, we have a lot of interesting discussions even when people aren't bombing the crap out of each other. As a (cultural) Jew I feel a great deal of pressure to side with Israel, no matter who the other party happens to be. Do I think Israel ought to remain a country? Sure. Do I think Israel is always right? No. Some might say this makes me a bad Jew. I say it's just awfully arbitrary to decide it's okay for Group A to attack Group B, but not for B to attack A.

I have heard pro-Israel folks describe Palestinians as terrorists, and I have heard pro-Palestinian folks describe Israelis as state-sponsored terrorists. Okay. If you are going to go out and bomb some civilians or their infrastructure just to say "Hey, what's up? We don't like you and hope you all die. Have a nice day!" then what does it matter who sponsors the weapons? It's still bombing the crap out of people. And bombing the crap out of people is not cool.

When I was in the third grade, the district was in the process of moving all the elementary students from the old historic Chancellor Street schoolhouse to the newly renovated (read: bigger, more accessible, uglier) Goodnoe Elementary. That year there were six third-grade classes--four at Goodnoe, and two at Chancellor Street--and we were assigned based on where we lived, rather than the usual luck of the draw. School-age territoriality being what it is, Mrs. Hintenlang's class occupied one half of the Chancellor Street cafeteria, and Mrs. Parent's class took the other. We knew food fights were strictly prohibited, so we tried to intimidate our peers by proclaiming in our outdoor voices, "We're gonna bomb Mrs. Parent's class back to the Stone Age!" None of us really knew what this meant, bombing back to the Stone Age, but it sounded fairly ominous... and besides, we knew that Mrs. Hintenlang's class was inherently superior to Mrs. Parent's class anyway.

Mrs. Hintenlang's classroom and Mrs. Parent's classroom were actually a single huge classroom with an accordion divider down the middle. Mrs. Hintenlang's side was slightly bigger, so we hosted the grade-wide activities, like the ghost stories at Halloween. This one kid in our class, who eventually got sent to military school, used that event to show off his machismo. He positioned himself out of sight of the teachers and passed his finger back and forth through a candle flame, grinning like a madman. We all knew he was completely bonkers and that it was only a matter of time before he was expelled to military school. But he got special dispensation because he was One of Us. If Mrs. Parent's class had a problem with him, any of the rest of us, or our turf, we would just bomb them back to the Stone Age, and don't say we didn't warn you.

All the bombing-the-crap-out-of-people that's going on now in the Middle East reminds me of the (completely arbitrary) Hintenlang-Parent rivalry. Only this time, people are being bombed back to the Stone Age. On both sides. And that, as previously stated, is not cool.

I don't choose sides because I don't think either is less reprehensible than the other. My grandmother doesn't seem to want to choose sides, either, and this makes me feel good because she's been around a lot longer than I have. My grandmother says that people need to realize that they don't get to decide who gets the land and who doesn't, who lives and who dies, who's right and who's wrong. All of this, she says, is up to G-d. And if people succeed in destroying everything, then maybe G-d will just find another planet, plunk down another Adam and Eve, and hope the outcome is better.

In the meantime, though, this madness has got to stop.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Public transit story #9: Ditmus

Yesterday my wife and I helped my best friend move from three miles away from us to almost forty miles away from us. I'm quite sad that she moved, but at least her commute will be a whole lot less hellish.

There's really no good way to get theah from heah except by car, but of course I had injured myself rather stupidly at a Habitat for Humanity project the day before and wasn't entirely capable of operating the stickshift; and my wife was at work that morning, which meant she was halfway there already. Thus, she was not about to come home, get me and the car, and turn around and drive back. So we bumbled our way through friends' cars and transit, and it was all well and good in the end.

Except that just before the end, we encountered this guy on the BART.

This guy settled himself noisily in the seat behind us and placed his elbow perilously close to our heads.

Here's the thing about BART culture--it's totally cool to sit down next to someone you don't know, but it's totally uncool to invade a stranger's personal space, even if it's just the strap of your briefcase against his or her leg. This guy's elbow was not yet touching us, so he was not in violation of noli me tangere, but personal safety trumps BART culture anyway, and everyone knows it.

So my wife turned around and said, "Excuse me, sir, but would you mind moving your elbow? We don't want to get hit in the head."

The guy (who, by the way, was an older white dude with a smattering of tattoos on his wrinkly arms) said, "Well, how about I put it here then?" and moved his elbow back a fraction of an inch.

We looked at him pointedly.

"Our heads are right here," I said, "so would you please move your elbow?"

He moved his elbow away, but he put his head in its place and started muttering things like "you don't like my elbow here? Well, I don't like your asses in that seat! Move your asses! I don't like them there! They're in my way!"

We ignored him.

Unsatisfied with our complete lack of response, he got up and moved to the seat facing us. All the while he muttered away--sometimes saying vaguely menacing things about our apparently inconvenient asses, other times saying largely incoherent things about girls reading books.

We continued to ignore him, but every so often we looked at him out of the corners of our eyes. Just in case.

He started rummaging around in his bookbag. He pulled out a crumpled piece of paper after a while, then a pen, and scribbled something on the paper. He offered it to my wife. She ignored him. "Read this!" he said. "Look!" and he tossed the paper onto her book. She read it.

"Is this your name?" she said. No response. "This is yours," she said, with more sweetness than I could have mustered, and handed it back.

This apparently was not the response he was expecting. He grew visibly pissed, crumpled up the paper, and tossed it onto the seat next to him. More muttering.

When he got off the train several minutes later, he said to us, "I'm sorry I was rude to you girls."

"That's okay," said my wife, ever the minister. "Have a nice evening."

Later, while we were waiting for the bus, she said, "Honey, do you know what 'ditmus' means?"


"'Ditmus'? D-I-T-M-U-S?"

"What's 'ditmus'?"

"I don't know! That's why I'm asking you. It's what the guy wrote on that piece of paper."

"I have no idea. But there was something not cognitively right about that man, and I was in this dilemma about whether ignoring him would extinguish his behavior or escalate it."

"Eh, I don't think he was dangerous. But I kept an eye on him just the same."

"High, psychotic, or both--that's for sure. Hey! The bus is here!"

I had some down time at work today, so I decided to Google-define "ditmus." Want a laugh? Follow the link for the suggested spelling.

Merry Ditmus, everyone!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Mr. Evolution

Confession: Somehow I managed to spend four years in the Cleveland area without once going to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

I went, just once, to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I saw several concerts by the Cleveland Orchestra. I walked through Little Italy all the time. I even shopped once or twice in Tower City. I never went to an Indians, Browns, or Cavs game, but hey, I don't like professional sports, and I got all the Lebron I needed from the local TV news.

But I didn't get to see the zoo until I was back for graduation in May. Did you know that the Cleveland Zoo has the largest collection of primates in North America? I didn't, either. Let me tell you, their monkeys are amazing, man.

We observed the Colobus monkeys having a little lunch break. Lunch that day was, quite literally, ants on a log--or, rather, bugs in sticks. The monkeys leveraged their sticks against the rocks to break them open, then picked out the bugs with their fingers. By and large, it was every monkey for himself/herself; but a few of them had an impromptu (dis)assembly line going. Pretty amazing.

Equally amazing was this one guy watching the Colobus monkeys along with us. My father overheard him ask,

"After seeing this, how can anyone possibly still believe in evolution?"

Ah, Ohio. Where humanlike behavior among non-human primates is evidence against evolution, where "importuning" was never illegal for straight folk, and where the Cuyahoga River isn't actually burning anymore, honest! Long may it reign--far, far away from me.