Archive for January, 2010

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Who says math can’t be entertaining? Even the simplest equations can, like cat + shower. Of course, only one of my cats can actually clamber up the stairs to the shower and poke her face into the deluge. The other one has too much joint pain to even lick herself clean. Consequently her fur is all matted, which I used to find gross, but now I can sort of appreciate. It’s like having a pet mountain range. I would wager she spends a lot of her time lying awake, having to go to the bathroom but not wanting to get up until she can’t stand not to. She follows the course of the sun around the room she sleeps in all day, starting by the east wall in the morning, moving to a chair on the north side in the afternoon and finally to the couch by the fireplace in the southwest corner in the evening. And like the sun, she never reverses direction. All of her limbs are more or less vestigial at this point. It’s a bit sad, but on the other hand, now that she’s outsourced both the transporting of herself to her food bowl every day her insulin production to humankind, I think she has thrown her hat in all the way with civilization, and she acts like it.

Deep in the crimson

I find it interesting that half the country seems to be under the impression that Harvard, like all the other famous universities in the country, is run by a bunch of communists, since it’s definitely the most capitalistic organization I’ve ever been a part of. And since they had an endowment of something like $33 billion when I entered, I naturally assumed that they were good at making money. But in the last year they’ve lost around $10 billion, and in response started making cutbacks.

They’ve always made a specialty of moves like collecting bills at the beginning of the month but not issuing salaries until the end. But now they’re adopting even more popular measures like cutting free coffee in the break rooms and lowering the thermostats in buildings four degrees during the winter. Within days of their first announcement of losses after the investment banks started collapsing last year I noticed that the motion-sensing lights in the graduate dorm laundry rooms were changed to turn off within 10 seconds without motion. The light would turn off during the time that it took for me to load my clothes into the machine. And then I’d have to walk to the other end of the room, stand under the sensor and wave my arms for a good five seconds before they would turn back on. Never have I found it so hard to convince man or machine that I exist.

Now I think I’m starting to see how they lost all that money. They have no idea where it came from or went to. They lose $10 billion through bad real estate investment and over-exposure in the stock market and they’re looking for it in the coffee carafes. Don’t be deceived by the physical resemblance of the faces on the money that you give to coked-up investment bankers and the money you give to the energy company. They’re really not related. Harvard is like an old woman who leaves her purse in a restaurant and, when she notices, starts poking the first teenager she sees with her umbrella, convinced he stole it.

Switzerland without a cuckoo clock

After mounting a campaign that thrust deep into enemy territory, the back and forth along the horizon between earth and sky in Shanghai has become a stand-off again. Have to keep giving people a reason to look up though, distract them from looking down and remembering how many fetuses of baby girls are buried in the ground. The world economy may be grinding slowly, but after having come all the way out of Africa, I don’t think humanity is going to go back in. Although…I don’t quite understand all the tension at the nexus between race and sex, since we’re all black in the dark. But if building upwards doesn’t start again, it will remain what I see from my window, buildings neither tall nor short, beautiful nor ugly. It’s the suburbs, and I know it doesn’t stop from here until the ocean. America is a suburb. It’s the only world power that has to commute just to participate in history. In my hometown I feel like I’m constantly living in the recent past. A couple of weeks ago a girl asked me if choking was a big new sexual trend. God only knows why, maybe she read a story in Cosmo about it. I told her she probably doesn’t need to sort out her feelings about it in advance, since if some guy is sitting there eagerly wanting to choke her and asks her if he can, whatever she answers will probably produce the same result.


I went to an open-mic comedy night at someplace called the Squire Lounge last night with two friends, the name being important only insofar as I dare say it found itself elbowed into more slanderous tirades directed against various people’s bodily orifices than any other title of chivalric rank has before. Inside the bar was the kind of motley grouping which didn’t lend itself to any shared social classification, no matter how broad, except maybe “evacuees sheltering from a natural disaster.” It was a vaguely endearing place nonetheless, with some sort of yarn creation wrapped around a pillar like a knitting project that had regrettably failed to turn into a pair of socks, as well as, up in the rafters, a disembodied, seemingly female mannequin head with what one of my friends and I decided must have been a moustache shading its upper lip, only because I don’t imagine a mannequin would be designed with a harelip. The men’s bathroom had, besides a urinal, a sitter whose lips practically touched the walls on both sides, probably because the owners were tired of people taking dumps on the floor on either side and determined to provide no room for error.

We sat in a semi-circular booth with a two-step rise near the stage. I thought that that kind of set-up by itself practically seemed like an implied invitation for a lap dance. One of my friends claimed that that wouldn’t work because the booth was too high off the ground. I liked that the only problem she saw with the idea was the elevation of the furniture, not the fact that the only people in our near vicinity were bums sheltering from the cold and a couple of people guessing the gender of whom, we decided, could replace bar trivia contests on the nights where there was no act. Finally the performers came on one at a time. Much wonderment at ethnic differences was expressed. A general lack of interest in babies without exciting mental illnesses or poignant disappearances into garbage dumps or the hands of pedophiles was implied. I learned that a much bigger groundswell of dissatisfaction with the state and nomenclature of the vagina exists than I would have suspected.

Outside the bar a bouncer was trying to shoo the smokers on the sidewalk off to more than 15 feet from the building. Most of the art-school types walked further down the street. The hobo wearing the hard hat, on the other hand, had, I take it, armed himself to pursue the opposite strategy. On our way home, a sudden unexpected need to go to the bathroom on the part of the girl provoked a discussion as to how long-haul truckers manage to drive all day without having to stop for that purpose, my guy friend holding that they take anti-diuretics to suppress the urge. Whereas I had assumed that the usual trucker strategy was to accumulate enough veneral diseases that it would hurt too much pee. So that, like in most primitive societies, fear would fill the role of science.

Wither goes this mangled apparition?

I hate buzzwords and stupid terminology. It partly drove me out of my job teaching English at a business college in Shanghai: it seemed particularly hypocritical to claim to be teaching English to Chinese people while massacring it behind closed doors with barbarous business neologisms. We were as bad as a bunch of womanizing monks. For instance, our teaching trainers would tell us: “We don’t give feedback, we prefer to give ‘feed-forward.'” Whereas I think that as long as we’re making shit up, a word like ‘feed-forward’ would more accurately describe a bird ingesting some seeds or berries and then vomiting them up again into the mouths of its babies. Although I suppose that’s more or less what we were doing too. Of course it’s worse in politics, since the power is greater and the ends are generally worse, and where euphemisms represent the most frustrating concealment of reality other than the bikini. For instance, this horrible new phrase ‘the public option.’ Were I to guess, I would have imagined that ‘the public option’ referred to when a guy can’t find a girlfriend but is still wants to have sex, so he chooses the ‘public option.’ And naturally I imagine that in today’s liberal America when a mission goes wrong in Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever the soldiers will no longer abort it, they will “exercise a woman’s reproductive rights” on it.