Monday, July 26, 2004

Confessions of a Wimp

Four and a half years ago we moved into our present house. One of the prime selling points was that it did not have a neighbor four feet from our living room window operating a chain saw at seven in the morning. And did I say that the neighbor was a borderline psychotic ex-juvenile delinquent who has graduated to bigger things like illegal log harvesting and fire-trap construction? What did we do about this? Well, let me tell you a story...

My college years taught me a few things about living in the real world. One is "Life is unfair". The second was "Other people are hell." I am a very light sleeper who is also sensitive to noise. This is not a good combination in college. In any case I learned by hard-lost experience (I can't say "hard-won") that two things happen when you complain about noise to people. The first is that the noise becomes louder. The second is that they retaliate in other ways against you. Requesting someone to quiet down only works when that person is amenable to being considerate to other people. Well, whadda-ya-know, the people who are amenable to being considerate to other people ARE NOT THE ONES BLARING THE STEREO AT 3AM AND WRESTLING ON THE FLOOR ABOVE YOU AND DISLODGING CEILING LIGHT FIXTURES! Simple, really, once you think about it.

The only thing you can do is try to deal with it. In my case, to filter out most noise I sleep with some kind of white noise machine and a pillow over my head. There are some cases where this doesn't work: bass-heavy music, loud parties and anything consistently loud enough or low enough frequency enough to creep in through my defense mechanisms. Unfortunately, chain-sawing was one of those things as well. We were renting a house in that case so we had our landlord try to deal with the situation since she had a history with them (including the neighbors parking a boat and trailer in her yard...).

While we did not get retaliation from them, the chain-sawing never stopped. She offered to put up a fence in the space between us and the neighbors. This made it impossible for the chain-sawyer to do it next to our house as there wasn't enough room left on their side, unless he wanted to chop off his head - which would be the absolute best solution.

We were loath to bring in the cops on this. We inquired about noise ordinances in Seattle and got the reply that outside of 7am-10pm there was not much we could do. However, they were VERY INTERESTED in the fact that the idiot's garage and backyard was crammed with firewood (oh, and he smoked). We could get him on running a business and creating a fire hazard. But at what expense? We had cats that ran around outside that he could harm, and there was of course the property damage or injury that he could cause us. We would not put anything past him. Was it worth it? Not to us, the bully won and we finally found a house to buy.

Our initial neighbors at our new house were wonderful. Quiet and industrious with only one neighbor for a year who played thumping bass music with the door open across the street - but it was not a big annoyance.

Until our next door neighbors moved out and the new neighbors came two years ago. We got our first clue to their attitude when my wife introduced herself and welcomed them to the neighborhood. They mentioned that they will be painting the house. Since they don't have a side yard and our fence goes all the way to their house, they would have to go through our yard to paint parts of the house (there is an easement for this.) My wife said just to let us know when that would happen. Well, we came home one day and without warning there was the painter in the midst of painting the house a very puky, sickish yellowish-green. Everything that is natural green (grass, leaves etc.) clashes with it unfavorably. It took us about six months for our stomachs to stop turning when we looked at it. And subsequently their behavior in everything has been selfish, rude and ignorant.

But all that is livable in a sense. What has become as painful as Chinese Water Torture has been their incessant parties. They usually have three to four a week, ranging from two to ten or twenty "guests". Thankfully their is no music associated with these parties, just extremely loud talking and laughing. We cannot use our backyard during these parties due to the din and smoke. At night we have to shut the window because our white noise machines cannot overcome their noise. But in 95 degree days, this is not an option and we just can't sleep in our bedroom.

The husband seems to be the better of the two, but I am positive that if we brought up how their parties are affecting us, the wife would try to make our life even worse than now - from hearing her at the parties, there is not a decent, warm, caring bone in her body and plenty of vindictive and evil protoplasm. And besides, I have my own experience of how drunks at parties respond to requests...

We have to fix the situation ourselves on how it is affecting us. As Milton said, "The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heav'n of hell, a hell of heav'n." For hot weather we can sleep in my basement studio where we can't hear them. But for how it steams us up during the evening, I have to come up with another tactic. I have somehow gave them an importance in my life which far outweighs their insignificance. I have caught myself obsessing about them and their behavior far too often. If one did the UNIX command "top" on my internal CPU, ruminating about them and making myself miserable would be at about 95% of my brain cycles.

I find that this obsession mostly occurs when I am not doing something very active, like when I am reading. My art has also suffered this summer. What I have to do is stop reading so much and become obsessed in my art. Also, what has helped at times has been my Christian upbringing - namely, "turn the other cheek" and "love your neighbor as yourself". In being a decent and moral person by nature, I've never had much use for actively using that upbringing, but I feel I am being tested in a way I have never been before. Actively remembering these things has given me moments of peace, and I am think of ways of doing good towards them. Last year the next morning after a noisy all-day and all-night birthday party for their daughter, I left a cushy toy and birthday card on their front step. It felt good to do the Christian thing. I need to do more things like this.

Alls I have to do is to work it out on how it is affecting me, and I will become a better person because of that. It has helped already just typing this out.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Elephant in the Room? There is no Elephant in the Room!

Okay, apparently the latest thing by the Bush administration is that they are going through their time-tested media preparations for a war with Iran. This time they are floating that Iran had a role in the 9/11 hijackings. Here is a quote from a Time article:

The senior official also told TIME that the report will note that Iranian officials approached the al-Qaeda leadership after the bombing of the USS Cole and proposed a collaborative relationship in future attacks on the U.S., but the offer was turned down by bin Laden because he did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia.
So what is happening is we have the teeniest, flimsiest of evidence that Iran approached al-Qaeda, which indicates that they at least knew how to talk to each other. Well, it is something I suppose. But for God's sake ignore the fact that Osama did not want to work with Iran because of his SAUDI ARABIAN supporters.
For once in this so-called war on terror why don't we focus on Saudi Arabia? I mean, is it too obvious? Fundamentalists in Saudi Arabia have given almost infinitely more support, men and money to Al-Qaeda than the Taliban, Iraq and Iran combined.
Unfortunately for them, however, the Taliban, Iraq and Iran don't have humonguous webs of connections with the people that run our country. But that couldn't be it could it? I mean, what democratic leader would give more leeway to a fundamentalist monarchy like Saudi Arabia than is warranted for his people's safety?

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Real Life vs. Satire

A few months ago, I was intentionally alarmist and hyperbolic in a post about how I always vote for losers. I said

So that brings up my dilemma, do I not vote this year in the Presidential elections? Well, that is if there will be elections - there is a low but finite possibility that if the polls are not in Bush's favor and the October surprises do not work that something will come up to cancel the elections. There is so much money at stake for Bush's contributors that it would make good business sense to make the elections go away.
And then I see that the Bush Administration is inquiring on how to delay the elections.

Okay, from now on I will stop trying to be alarmist and hyperbolic, real life does quite a good job without me...

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

We Are What We Are Not!

So I got some change the other day. My mother-in-law collects the state quarters and one of my husbandly mandates has been to scout my change for new state quarters. In this batch I found Michigan's quarter. Now, as a design, it is much better than some other states, as for instance, Arkansas which has a mallard gracefully about to hit its head on a huge diamond floating over a lake like the UFO in Close Encounters of the Third Kind - there is just too much happening. Michigan chose to be more elegant and just has an outline of the state along with the Great Lakes, with the phrase "Great Lakes State".

But what does this signify? All it says it that Michigan is next to a whole bunch of big lakes. In other words, we Michiganders (Michiganers? Michiganois? Michiganites? People From Michigan?) are proud of what is outside the state, not what is on the land in the state! Now, anyone going through the downtown of Detroit may agree with that sentiment, but I think it is a little underwhelming to proclaim that bit of modesty to the rest of the country on your quarter. Other ideas considered included the Mackinac bridge and the Automobile (though I would have loved seeing Detroit Piston's star Dennis Rodman instead.)

So what if other states followed Michigan's lead? Will Kansas' quarter have the universal symbol of negation (circle with diagonal bar) across the outline of Oklahoma and the motto "We're not Oklahoma!" or will North Dakota show a compass pointing north from an outline of South Dakota with "Just go North of South Dakota, You can't miss us!"

But we won't have these problems with Texas, no-sirree-pardner. Texas in its uniquely schizophrenic way is commemorating its entry into the Union (key word there, "Union") with an outline of the state with a huge ass star and motto of "The Lone Star State". So let's get this straight, the Lone Star symbolizes the Republic of Texas (which it was from 1839-1845) as a standalone sovereign nation, but calling yourself the "Lone Star State" essentially is saying "We are most proud of once being a nation, but now we're like this state thing." Yup, and we're so glad to have you too, Texas...

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Academia Lost

Occassionally I pine for the groves of academe. Mostly I miss two things that I found there. First, I miss the way of life of academia. In the real (business) world, people act like everything is earth shattering important, must be done now, oh-my-god why aren't you answering my call at 2am? In the academic world, they mostly know that if they act like this, other people are smart enough to call them on it. In the business world, it seems you have to behave like an idiot 24-7 non-stop.

The other thing I miss is the people in academia. The amount of honest-to-god interesting people that I met in academia is astounding. People who read, have well thought out opinions, interests beyond sports/TV/cars, interested in all kinds of art, music and theater etc. In other words, since they are in academia to begin with, the life of the mind is a high priority. In the business world, I've met about three people that are interesting in that way. For instance, in one of my jobs I was quickly introduced to how other people think. We were discussing movies and one of the guys said something like how he loved all the Saturday Night Live alumni movies - the ones with Adam Sandler (his really dumb ones), David Spade, Chris Farley etc. I kept expecting an ironic comment to come out - but no, he and his buddies honestly really loved those movies.

But then I read something that reminds me of the little things that I don't miss about the academic life. Here is a blurb from an article about doctors and the scientific method:

John Enders and his young associate T.C. Peebles were the first to grow measles virus in the test tube in 1954, using the tissue culture techniques developed by Enders and his colleagues in the late 1940s. Much good that did him at Harvard. Even though he was awarded the Nobel Prize that year for using his tissue culture method to grow poliovirus, he had to wait another two years for promotion, at the age of 59, from the associate professorship that he had held for the previous 14.
"Old boy, you think we are impressed with your little Nobel tchotchke? Tenure denied." You just know that he was on the wrong end of some pointless feud and the powers that be in his department were making his life hell. And that kind of stuff happens all the time in academia - from tenure decisions, paper publishing decisions, hiring, etc. Unlike what mostly happens in the business world, you really could be doing your job in academia extremely well, and still lose out because of petty politics. Of course politics happens in the business world, but I've found that doing your job well is usually noticed.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

I Must Remember This...

I've seen many wondrous things in my life. Riding a horse through the desert sands and coming upon the pyramids of Giza, walking on a sunny spring day and seeing the Eiffel Tower against the blue sky, diving from a boat in the Florida Keys and cavorting with barracuda and tropical fish. The sounds, feelings, sights and smells of these and many other incredible things I've seen and done are all with me to this day, and are remembered by me unequivocally with fondness.

But one won't. I guess I have been too lucky and the laws of fate finally caught up with me. Who knows?

It was a gorgeous day at Yellowstone National Park. We've hiked to the top of a mountain and seen geysers, mudpots, elk and coyotes. Why not finish the day by going down to see Old Faithful? The rest of the park wasn't too crowded, so it can't be that bad.

We got there right after Old Faithful blew, so we spent some time wandering around the old lodges. We strolled to the benches in front of the geyser 20 minutes before the expected blow. We got seats on a front bench and chatted and read while waiting (My book was "Death in Yellowstone National Park" - I get books in every National Park I visit on how people die there. If Darwin read these books, he would have wondered how homo sapiens ever got through the winter - much less a few millennia.)

The geyser was steaming this whole time, but all of a sudden a small gurgle erupted, followed by a bigger spurt. Also at the same time, two kids came running in front of us from behind. They had cameras and were going to get great pictures. Then the geyser really blew. And the smallest kid started yelling in a sleazy voice "All right, all right, give up to me, baby, that's it, awwww, come on baby, sweet, come on!"

Rebecca and I looked at each other, slackjawed and mute.

We were astounded by this freak of nature we were seeing.

Unfortunately, it wasn't Old Faithful.

Yes, that's right, I'm experiencing one of the wonders of the world with an 8 year old budding porn director. The kid obviously had picked the porn merchant patter from God knows where and was applying it (surprisingly spot on, given the innate sexual symbolism of a geyser) to what would normally be an awe-inspiring occurrence. And forever linked in my mind with Old Faithful will be the running commentary of a young Larry Flynt.

Oh well, I'll always have Paris.