September 29, 2011

The Summer That Wasn't

The leaves have begun their descent. Many of them are disembarking from the trees without even doing us the courtesy of changing colors, which is like a fireworks display without a grand finale. Or fireworks, for that matter.

Granted, it's windy today, so the tenuous grasp some leaves have on their parent trees this time of year just isn't enough to hold on long enough to sport their colorful leaf death pallor. I guess you can't really sport a colorful pallor, can you? You know what? Leaves can sport a colorful death pallor, so I claim creative license on that literary turn of phrase.

Anyway, suddenly we find ourselves facing autumn, and we have to ask ourselves: what the hell happened to THAT summer?

Of course, this summer was spent trying to feed a baby who resolutely refused to be fed. You'd be surprised how much time in a day can be eaten away by a child who refuses to do the same. It made for a dreary, frustrating slog that robbed us of the opportunity to adequately appreciate the summer season performance. Vacations were not taken. Spontaneous sojourns to places elsewhere were stowed in a closet alongside the tubs of Christmas decorations. You'd be surprised how difficult it is to stow a spontaneous sojourn, let alone several.

So, this was the summer that wasn't, although we did make it through, which was something of a miracle, in retrospect.

And we do have something of a miracle to show for our efforts as well, with Zoey now a smiling, laughing, cooing, rolling, albeit STILL NOT EATING, adorable little ball of cuteness. It's easy to forget sometimes just how far she's come. I don't. . . enjoy. . . watching the videos I took the day she was born, but I pull them up occasionally regardless, because it reminds me just how hard she fought for the simple chance to be.

Tomorrow is Zoey's nine month check-up. She'll be weighed and measured and poked and inspected, and the doctor will no doubt note that she's much smaller than she should be at nine months, which of course she is.

But, she's healthy and happy and, above all, here.

I think that's worth missing out on a summer.

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September 26, 2011

Zoey Laughs

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Up until last week, I'd been using the same computer monitor since 1999--a 21-inch IBM P202 that weighs slightly more than the moon. I bought it for $400 from "a guy" who, if rumors are to be believed, spent some time in jail later on for dealing in stolen electronics. Back in the day, such a monitor was retailing for over $3,000, so I can't say such rumors were unfounded.

Time is a cruel mistress, as they say, or as I just wrote right now for dramatic effect. In the decade plus since buying my monitor from the trunk of that young felon's car, I've gone through no less than four computers, yet the monitor remained a stable anchor upon my desk. Alas, over the last month, the brightness started to fade and the colors lost their crisp quality. In short, the monitor was dying.

So, last week, I bought a 22" wide screen television with a computer-ready port and, while I'm generally happy with the purchase, I have to say I'm disappointed with the wide-screen quality. Maybe I'm missing something here, but it's just not quite what I was hoping for. I suppose I'll get used to it, and there's really no going back to the P202, sadly, but my expectations have been seriously dashed.

Thankfully, my spine won't be on the verge of telescoping downward when I have to move my monitor the next time, but I sure do miss some of the visual benefits of the old girl. You always miss some of the visual benefits of the old girl, don't you?

What really annoys me about the new television/monitor, however, is all the unnecessary technology that came bundled with it. Hear me out here--I'm not anti-technology, but I am anti-unnecessary technology.

For example, the television came loaded with the capability to access the Internet; specifically, I can access Facebook and Twitter--among other Web sites and functions--and post updates using the TV remote control. I very briefly fiddled with this capability, but I simply just don't see the point. Don't get me wrong, I like both Facebook and Twitter, and I use both regularly, but I do so using a computer equipped with a keyboard, which is, you know. . . FAST.

Maybe I'm just not "hip" or "with it," but I can't imagine a more unlikely scenario than pulling up Facebook on my TV and entering a status update using a TV remote control. I mean, really. It would be faster for me to chisel a message into a slab of granite. The same goes for Twitter updates. By the time I've hunt-and-pecked my way through the ridiculous TV interface, any message I may have crafted would be outdated by about five days.

My unnecessary technology gripe actually goes even deeper, and it stems from the ethereal nature of the Internet, which has left a scattered trail of pop culture technologies in its wake. Recall MySpace, for example, or any number of defunct online forums, blogs and Web pages in general, all of which were basically usurped by Facebook and Twitter. And, while I like Facebook and Twitter just fine, I'm fairly certain it will only be a matter of time before both of those are usurped by the next big thing--and hopefully I'll invent that thing, because I could sure use the money.

My point is, once Facebook and Twitter have been left in the digital dust, I'll be sitting here with a television/monitor equipped with technology that is no longer just unnecessary, but completely obsolete.

And then I'll have to explain to my kids why the television has all this obsolete and useless functionality loaded on it, and I simply won't have the time for that, because I'll be fabulously wealthy after having invented the next big social networking sensation that killed off Facebook and Twitter.

How's that for a paradox?

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September 22, 2011




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September 21, 2011

Sibling non-rivalry

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September 17, 2011

A Funeral and A Birthday

The weekend featured a funeral on Saturday, followed by a birthday party on Sunday. Thankfully, I didn't mix the two up because that would have been really awkward. Although, I suppose breaking into a rendition of "Happy funeral to you!" would have had some comedic value.

Anyway, on Saturday I said goodbye to one of my two remaining grandmas. The last time I saw her in person was five years ago to mark her 80th birthday. Correspondence after that consisted of the annual Christmas letter, a call to tell her I was getting married and a call to tell her my wife was pregnant. I don't remember if I called to tell her about my wife being pregnant with twins, but I don't think I did. In fact, I know I didn't, because she had fallen around that time and had to enter a nursing home, so I didn't have her new number.

So, it's safe to say I wasn't particularly close to Grandma, but it's still a shard to the heart to know she's gone. Grandparents always seem eternal right up until the point they're not.

The funeral required a sojourn West across Minnesota, in what can accurately be called one of the more boring two hour drives in the entire state. I dutifully printed out Google map directions, which apparently didn't take into account the fact a large swath of the road I needed to travel upon is currently shovel-readied out of existence.

So, I found myself in the town of St. Clair, which was nowhere near where I needed to be. I ended up consulting with the small town equivalent of Google maps: a convenience store clerk who jotted down some quick instructions to get me back on my desired path. For about five minutes I had no less than five locals poreing over the Google map directions I had printed out, trying to figure out where I erred.

"That's why I don't trust those guys," said one, as if Google exists solely as a roomful of eggheads with slide rules and pocket protectors.

I got back on the road and finally arrived at my destination, a lonely yet grand Lutheran church parked in the middle of absolutely nowhere--cornfields as far as the eye can see in every direction. I attended my grandfather's funeral at the exact same church over a decade ago. I'll probably never see the church again, which is sort of sad in its own way.

As I said, I wasn't particularly close to my grandma, but I found myself tearing up during the service, because I read Finn's name in the obituary list of family members who preceded Grandma in death, so suddenly the funeral selfishly became another service to him, in my mind. The pain of his loss just keeps popping up in the dangdest of places. Goldfish crackers have a mascot named "Finn," for example, and the latest "Cars" movie has a character named "Finn" voiced by Michael Caine.

After the committal service, I noticed a grave one or two steps down from Grandma's that features a "Troy" who only lived two days in 1968. I hate to admit I spent too much time around that grave, but I did. And I didn't want to leave. I'm telling you, the grief just follows me everywhere and slaps me in the face right when I think I've finally gotten it under control. I just miss Finn and see him everywhere. Not having him here wounds me in terrible ways I don't understand.

As a writer, I want to explain it, but it's not easy trying to explain the worst pain in my life. I'll write something, read it, and realize I'm inadequate to the task. And then I'll try again, and reach the same conclusion. And suddenly I realize that's the definition of insanity.

Anyway, the funeral thus completed, the fellowship lunch in the church basement dutifully ingested and the obligatory small talk with people I mostly didn't know or vaguely remember concluded, I was back on the road home.

On the return journey, however, I was on high alert for whatever it was that tripped me up earlier that landed me in St. Clair. When I hit Waseca, I was confronted with a phalanx of "Detour" signs, and thus the mystery was solved. No such detour signs guided me on the way to the funeral, thank you very much.

As I approached the detour, I saw a billboard that decreed "Discover Waseca," and thanks to the detour I had absolutely no choice in the matter. The detour took me through the heart of the town which, additionally, was holding a town celebration that required the closing of several streets. So, I had to embark on a detour within a detour, which is just what you want to do after a funeral and over three hours of driving.

But, I got through the commute and was home at 3:30 p.m., which was just in time to get back in the van and go purchase items for my boy's second birthday the next day. By that evening, I was so sick of driving I found myself standing on the front stoop, frowning at the minivan. You know you've reached a driving tipping point when you break out the minivan frown.

I switched mental gears on Sunday and set myself to ensuring Aiden had the best birthday EVER! Which sounds like a tall order until you realize he only has one other birthday against which to compare it, and he probably doesn't even remember that one, so I could have handed him a cookie and it would have been the best birthday EVER!

But, no, we have to deliver more than a cookie and a smile on one's second birthday, so we put on a "Toy Story" themed party, and he was so excited upon seeing the decorated porch that he declared "OH, WOW!" and his whole body started to practically tremble like a jostled bottle of nitroglycerin on the verge of exploding. So, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Did I say it was a "Toy Story" themed party? Oh, it was a "Toy Story" themed extravaganza! We had the "Toy Story" trilogy playing on a small television, with "Toy Story" gift boxes, and a "Toy Story" cake. And then, as if that wasn't enough "Toy Story," it turned out people had bought "Toy Story" gifts, so Aiden ended up "Toy Story" toys, including a "Toy Story" railroad track and a "Toy Story" garbage truck that opens into a waste management facility a la "Toy Story 3."

Man, I am so freakin' tired of "Toy Story."

At some point, I think Aiden made the connection that the decorations and toys and people were all about HIM and this concept of a "birthday." Honestly, it was almost like a little flame flickered in his eyes and he. . . JUST KNEW. It was one of those moments I've heard other parents talk about and never really understood. But, the pure joy and excitement he experienced as he ran back and forth, screaming with pleasure about everything and everything, was as near to perfect as you can get.

Of course, eventually, the nap grumblies kicked in, so it was time for the guests to leave and the festivities to come to a close. I try to imagine what went through his two-year-old mind, what with the morning being dedicated to him, and then waking up from his afternoon nap to discover everything was back to normal. It must be like one of those dreams where you find a bunch of money or treasure and you're all giddy until you realize you're beginning to wake up, and you don't want the dream to end.

You never want the dream to end.

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September 16, 2011

Not That There's Anything Wrong With That

Watched the 2010 documentary "Catfish." It's a decent enough show, in a real life "Plain Layne" sort of way. But, man, it features a guy with a tramp stamp. You CANNOT be a guy with a tramp stamp and profess to be straight.

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September 15, 2011

Too Numerous to Count

Every time I see a commercial for Smoker's Ally, I very nearly wet myself with laughter.

I mean, from the cliched construction worker apparently missing his two front teeth, to the black dude blowing water vapor out of his nose, to Princess Leia exclaiming "Whoa!" to the eventual bar fly at the end saying "wow, I just love this," this commercial just features something for everyone. If you don't find this commercial amusing on some level, you clearly don't have a soul.

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The Future is Yesterday

My wife and I are considering purchasing new cell phones. This is not an easy decision, owing largely to the fact I basically loathe phones in general, and cell phones in particular. Alas, in today's fast-paced world of technological innovation, being without a cell phone is like participating in a tug-of-war with no arms.

Actually, I should step back a bit here. My wife and I aren't considering new cell phones--we're considering upgrading from cell phones to "smart phones." I hate that term: "smart phones." Because the phones aren't "smart," and neither are most of the people using them, which makes having to upgrade to one all the more insulting.

Let's be clear here: "smart phones" are simply very small computers you can hold up to your ear in the unlikely event you decide to use one as an actual phone. I've been an avid computer enthusiast for the last 20+ years, so I know a computer when I see one, and a smart phone is a small computer. Period. Except it's a small computer that will be obsolete in six months, so you have to keep upgrading over and over again, which is why I hate the very idea of even venturing down the smart phone path. I'm annoyed enough when I have to upgrade my computer to new software versions, so actually having to buy a new hardware device with each software upgrade is particularly galling. It's like having to buy a new car when the tires get worn down.

Even worse than the idea of purchasing a very small computer over and over again is the thought of going down the texting rabbit hole. I just simply don't understand the concept behind texting. My thinking is, if something is important enough to text, it's important enough to call, because it takes longer to text than to call in most cases. That said, I think I resist texting because, in my heart of hearts, I know I'll end up embracing it like a long lost lover. I can totally see my sour cynicism playing out in texting format.

There's part of me that desperately wishes the sun would send out an uber-flare that radiates an electro magnetic pulse (EMP) that renders all electronic devices impotent and sends human civilization back to primitive circles around campfires for our communication needs, but I know that's not likely to happen.

So, I have no real choice but to embark on the smart phone route and become a texting fiend. Which means this blog will eventually consist of texting shorthand.

j/k. LOL!

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September 13, 2011

There's no manual for this

Today's parental high points included:

1.) While trying to feed Zoey--an all-day exercise in necessary futility--Aiden disappeared, and was discovered putting cat food, kibble by kibble, into the cat water dish.

2.) While trying to feed Zoey--an all-day exercise in necessary futility--Aiden became suspiciously quiet, and was discovered eating chewing gum still in the wrapper.

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September 09, 2011

9/11 Retrospective

Ten years ago, the name "Osama bin Laden" was elevated that Tuesday morning in my mind from a vaguely dangerous terrorist responsible for attacks "over there," to the foremost terror mastermind and financier of our time, capable of orchestrating the unthinkable. He was a bogeyman, able to disappear into mountainous regions and repeatedly sending out "tapes" of his ongoing terror objectives and worldly grievances.

That lost its "terror" luster over time. By 2007, sending a donkey through the mountains to deliver a VHS tape was kind of like. . . sending a donkey through the mountains to deliver a VHS tape. Bin Laden's resurgent Elvis-like "appearances" eventually led me to believe he had been reduced to a crimson stain on some cave wall somewhere, but I was mistaken.

This year, Osama was discovered hunkered down in a double-wide "mansion" in Pakistan, draped in a shawl, reviewing his copies of "Osama's Greatest Hits" on a legacy tube television, when he wasn't, apparently, perusing his collection of infidel pornography. After the searing hot kiss of Seal Team Six lead to his noggin, his body was dumped out to sea. While it would have been nice to have tagged him at the height of his notoriety back in 2001 - 2005 or so, there was some schadenfreude in knowing the terror mastermind had been reduced to the roll of the annoying college bum who didn't know he had long since worn out his welcome, and his roommates called the cops--or at least didn't try too hard to stop them.


Ten years ago, radical fundamentalist Islam became the focal point of a worldwide discussion about the unlikelihood of a regressive and viciously misogynistic religious offshoot ever being able to adequately assimilate into the progressive world of the "West," and what, exactly, to do about it. At some point, the discussion shifted to "not all Muslims are terrorists," which was never really in doubt in my mind; that seemed pretty obvious.

But gradually, that discussion further shifted so that being Muslim or having Muslim roots oddly became both a badge of authenticity AND something that had no implication, depending on the situation. In Minnesota, it meant Keith Ellison became a U.S. representative, almost solely based on his Muslim heritage. In the race to the White House in 2008, mentioning "Hussein" was Barack Obama's middle name was enough to get hissed down for even noticing such an irrelevant bit of biography, but it was also trotted out as an indication we've transcended that sort of debate. Odd, that.

Today, Islam occupies a conflicted pedestal status of sorts in Western society compared to its brothers of the Book, Judaism and Christianity. Whereas jokes and visually humorous or even shocking presentations of Christianity and Judaism are basically considered fair game, Islam is regarded with an uncertain caution. Consider the Danish Muhammad cartoons from 2005 that too many news organizations worldwide refused to reprint lest angry Muslims took to the streets, yet depictions of the Christian God and Jesus are very often used for off-color humor, ridicule and disdain, while Jewish parodies have a rich tradition going back at least to Hanukkah Harry--but then, I'm only 36. Muslims in the workplace are allowed excuses to pray every. . . well, whenever they pray; it's a lot. And they don't have to touch pork products if they don't want to. And traditional Muslim wear abounds--just walking around the local mall today is like attending a convention dominated by colorful ghosts and fat ninjas.

It's as if it's been silently and unanimously decided Islam is the moody and unpredictable teenager religion that's best left alone to work out its issues on its own, upstairs in its room, blaring terrible music, while Christianity is the unhip parental religion downstairs trying to hear the television and just get through this difficult stage in Islam's life. Meanwhile, Judaism just wants to be left alone in its old age, free to await the Messiah, without having its sole remaining retirement home driven into the sea.

Whether I like to admit it or not, in some ways bin Laden got exactly what he wished for, teenage-minded terrorist that he was--an elevated, feared position when it came to Islam, at least in its most virulent form, which regrettably just happened to spill over and slightly taint its more peaceful Islamic off-shoots.


Ten years ago, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center came crashing down in a nightmarish man-made pyroclastic flow and, despite predictions it would take years to clean up, eight months later it was cleared and ready to send a big re-construction middle finger to the assholes responsible for the murderous deed.

Those towers seemed eternal. Even today, when I find the odd free time to play the old Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 New York Twin Towers mission, it's difficult to imagine those towers are gone. I mean, you could send in troops to secure the two buildings and soldiers fortified inside could take out TANKS for crying out loud.

Today, surprisingly, construction remains incomplete at ground zero. Hopefully some day. Hopefully soon.


Ten years ago, the administration occupying the White House was blaming the previous administration for the dot-com bubble pop and challenging economic woes.

Today, the administration occupying the White House is blaming the previous administration for the housing bubble pop and challenging economic woes.


Ten years ago, political rhetoric was largely divided into two camps: Democrats and Republicans. That morphed over time into liberals and conservatives.

Today, with an online population not content with something as simple as "Democrats" and "Republicans," the debate, such as it is, focuses on "righties" and "lefties," which has gotten so ridiculously tiresome, I've largely abstained from participating in the pointless poo-flinging.


Ten years ago, I was on two weeks notice as my technical writer/editor contract expired. I was living under serious career uncertainty, although the job I was about to leave was one I wouldn't have wished on. . . well. . . Osama bin Laden.

Today, I'm writing freelance articles from home and, although the career/financial uncertainty is still an omnipresent specter, I'm more comfortable and happy now than I ever was working in an office environment.


Ten years ago, I was single and wondering what the next stage of my life would entail in the post-9/11 world.

Today, I have a house, a wife and two children, and I've experienced enough in the last 10 years to make 9/11 seem a bit smaller, at least personally.

In other words, life goes on, irrevocably changed though it is.

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September 08, 2011


Maybe six or seven years ago, media organizations were screaming and wetting their pants about how unfair it was that the Internet was giving all the news away for "free." There were even lawsuits being floated against news aggregator sites.

Nowadays, those same news organizations have the gall to ask readers to send in their images, videos and written accounts of breaking news events . . . for "free." They're banking on, correctly, people being naive enough not to realize they're basically forfeiting their copyright to that material. People really need to be reminded they have a right to be compensated for their submissions.

That's my advice, and it's "free."

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September 04, 2011

Flabbergasted By Coffee


I haven't conducted a good fisking here at Rambling Rhodes in a long, long time. One reason: Nick Coleman is no longer at the Strib, tapping out his mental droolings, so that hanging fruit is no longer there, which is both sad and wonderful all at once. Another reason: comment threads--by the time I read something, there's usually at least a couple dozen comments tacked on at the end that basically say what I would have said, but they do it with terrible grammar and endless misspellings.

Today, however, I break the fisk fast, because the Strib went and ran an opinion piece that is so over-the-top ridiculous, it's almost hard not to believe it was meant as some sort of satire/parody. As with most pieces of literary garbage with only the faintest hint of anything passing as "logic," this piece was written by an idiot. Worse, it was written by an ignorant idiot. Worse still, it was written by an ignorant idiot who would rather get the racist fainting vapors than conduct even a rudimentary Google search to determine why something is named what it's named. But, greatness of greatness? It ran WITHOUT a comment thread, which tells me the Strib ran this knowing it was ripe for the most delicious ridicule since, well. . . since stupidity was invented, I guess.

Anyway, let's begin:

The subtle racism around us (even in a cup of coffee)

The labels we choose can speak volumes -- and even say things we didn't intend.

Article by Hinda Mandell

*sigh* You know just by the title and sub-head that this is going to be a doozy.

What do you do when a favorite coffee shop features various coffee blends with racially tinged names?

Well, first I'd probably pause and wonder if maybe I'm a bit of a drama queen who sees race in everything because of some sort of white guilt I just can't shake. I'm sorry, no I wouldn't, because I'm secure within myself. But, Hinda sure as hell should maybe start doing this kind of introspection, as we'll see.

This is probably not one of life's great questions. But it's one I've been pondering lately.

Could you maybe, you know, get to the point and say "Why?"

I was sitting in this beloved joint in New York recently, with its hipster-hippie ambiance, when I overheard a conversation. I'm convinced that the barista and customer, both white, were oblivious to the racially charged nature of their utterances.

Look, I get it. You're setting up a "race" topic. Don't oversell it.

Asked the customer: "What type of roast is the Jungle Roast?"

The barista, who looked on the younger side of 20, answered: "It's a darker roast."

I sat there flabbergasted. These two women were engaging in a practical conversation -- is the coffee a light or dark brew?

But because of the name of the roast -- and its richer flavor -- they were in fact reinforcing the notion of the jungle and its people as "dark."

Okay. . . I'm going to. . . You know what? I'm just going to let that "logic" sink in a little bit. It's racist, see? This dark coffee. This "Jungle Roast."


Hinda? Dear? Sweetheart? Toots? A little tutelage is in order here:

Coffee beans--those dark little nut-like nodules that go into your precious cup of wake-up juice--are grown. In fact, they are grown on trees, trees that prefer a certain climate, shall we say. These trees are cultivated primarily in equatorial climates, where rainforests often abound, which are often referred to as "jungles."

So, you see, dear Hinda, "Jungle Roast" refers to roasted beans having originated from a jungle. It's almost certainly not a reference to some darkly-tanned Bolivian tribesman with a loin cloth and a spear. I'm just, you know, throwing this out there for your consideration. To reinforce my point--not that it needs it--there are coffee shops around the world with names like "Jungle Cafe" and "Jungle's Edge Coffee" and "Cafe Jungle" and kind of on and on like that. True, there are others:


The names are meant to conjure images of roasting coffee beans from their point of origin, with the heavenly aroma that accompanies that. Patrons don't typically walk into "Jungle Cafe" and expect to be beset upon by yammering throngs of dark-skinned warriors with bones in their noses.


Perhaps you think I'm making too much of a simple exchange.

Ya think?

But consider, too, that while eavesdropping I was sipping on a luscious coffee blend that the shop calls Jamaica Me Crazy. It's seasoned with fresh cinnamon. Maybe that's what they drink in Jamaica? I don't know, since I've never been there.

You don't have to be there!! GOOGLE THAT SHIT!!! It's not racism. It's generally called "geography."

But I do know that if the coffee was labeled Protestants A Plenty, Catholics Be Crazy, Jews be Jivin' or Blacks Be Boppin', there would be an uproar. Of course, Protestants and Catholics, as part of the religious mainstream, do not typically face the brunt of prejudice in the United States.

First off, if Jews develop a decent brand of coffee, and they don't call it "Jews be Jivin'," they would be fools. Secondly, that paragraph was so powerfully stupid, it may have created a stupidity wormhole.

And most know that intolerance against Jews and blacks is not publicly accepted. Blatant bigotry is easy to spot, while covert bigotry -- where an entire group is used to sell coffee -- can be easier to stomach and therefore ignore.

An entire group is used to sell coffee?


An entire group of what? If coffee comes from Jamaica, it's Jamaican coffee--there's not much you can really do about that. I guess I could see Juan Valdez and his donkey as being used to sell coffee, but old Juan doesn't seem all that upset about it.


But then, Juan represents Colombian coffee, so I don't know why I just equated him with Jamaica, except for the fact he's not particularly "dark."

It's been nearly a decade since I learned one of my biggest life lessons. Difference is all about perception.

Especially when you perceive "differences" everywhere you look, as Hinda apparently does. Gosh, some would even say she's perhaps a bit racist or something. Okay, that's not fair. She's certainly ignorant, and logically inept as a kindergartner, and undoubtedly off the charts naive, but I'll stop short of calling her racist.

This lesson came in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, when I was riding a campus commuter bus with a college classmate into Boston. I was retelling a story I heard on the radio. It was about a teenager who had an African-American parent and an Arab-American parent.

And now, he's our President. . . I'm kidding! I'M KIDDING!!

The newscast covered this boy's life in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, since the boy's skin was dark, but not in a "familiar" way. As a result, he was often met with suspicion by people ranging from clerks to security personnel.

Plus, he kept trying to light his shoes on fire, for some reason, which unfairly ramped up the suspicion.

"He must have been interesting-looking," I said.

That's when a fellow student turned around in her seat, faced me and said, "Why? Because he's black?"

Dum, dum, DUMMMMMMM!!!!

I don't remember my response. But I remember feeling knee-jerk defensive, as one typically feels when accused of racism or any other kind of "ism."

Oh, great, now she's channeling Ferris Bueller. By the way, capitalism, is an "ism." You don't typically see someone get the fainting vapors when someone calls them on their capitalist proclivities.

Yet it took me the better part of a decade, until I began studying communication messages for a living, to understand this student's point.

And yet she missed "the point" entirely. Like, she missed it by a universe and a half. In fact, to be perfectly honest, that student didn't even HAVE a point.

The teenager who is half African-American and half Arab-American is "interesting" because he is different -- at least to me, a white person with two white parents who grew up in mostly white neighborhoods.

White guilt! White guilt! White guilt!

I should have known better than to use the descriptive term "interesting," which is really code for "different," especially since I grew up as a Jew in Minnesota.

ARGH! Look, "interesting" isn't "code" for anything. If some guy walks by wearing a pumpkin on his head and an arrow in his ass, he's both different AND interesting.


Anyone else notice this girl is both different and interesting? YOU RACIST!!

One summer in high school, I attended an all-girls' basketball camp. I was the only one under 5 foot 7 inches. And the only non-Christian. One night, a girl who slept on the bunk above mine was complaining about her ex-boyfriend.

What the hell is going on here? So now she's the only one under 5 foot 7 inches? Are we supposed to take that into consideration somehow? Does that further establish her Jewish credentials?

"He's weird," she said. And then, as an afterthought: "He's Jewish."

Maybe she thought he was weird because he kept live falcons in his attic and referred to himself as "The Great Falconey!" THAT was weird, and oh, he was also Jewish. The two were separate issues entirely.

Uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation, I spoke up. "I'm Jewish," I said.

Way to break the silence, Hinda! Short Jewish people have to represent!

My bunkmate then reached out her hand. "Give me five," she said.

Once again, I'm just guessing here, but I suspect the bunkmate may have been being a bit ironic. The short white girl who can't play basketball all that well and has some social awkwardness issues pipes up one night and says "I'm Jewish." The high five may have been a gesture of "way to go on being Jewish. I don't really care, but here's a high five so you don't feel completely bad about going zero for 10 on the free throw line today."

I did. And I never felt like such an idiot, high-fiving a person because I was Jewish and therefore different -- to her.

That would be your interpretation, Hinda, and you're entitled to it, but man you draw some pretty wickedly off-the-mark conclusions, according to my interpretation.

It's this distance of difference that allows the coffee shop to offer its blends without protest. After all, what's the likelihood that someone from Jamaica -- or the jungle -- would walk into this cafe in upstate New York cafe?

A likelihood that's about the same as using the word "cafe" twice in six words? I realize Hinda is white, and short, and Jewish, and from Minnesota, and inexplicably graduated from an Edina high school despite flunking basic geography in this very article, so she can be forgiven for writing yet another borderline racist, certainly elitist, definitely prejudiced paragraph. Honestly though, the chances of someone from Jamaica or from one of the scores of countries across the globe graced with jungles, walking into a particular upstate New York cafe? Actually, pretty good. I'd take that bet.

People tolerate intolerance if it's not directed at them and if it's dished up in a cutesy format.

Or presented in a fairly obvious, though unintentional, way in a certain newspaper article.

I have not been back to that coffee shop for a while. Not out of protest, but because it would force me to confront myself. Do I embarrass the cafe manager by saying something?

Oh please! Please do this! Please say something to the cafe manager. Call him racist! Call "Jungle Roast" racist. The hysterical looks of "Is this girl on drugs or something?" would have to be captured on video and put on YouTube. It would go viral within hours.

Do I become complicit by ordering a medium Jamaica Me Crazy with steamed milk, please?

Yes! You become complicit! You have the racist audacity to dilute the pureness of the Jamaican coffee race with the entropy of your lily white steamed milk! You racist, coffee-swilling abomination!

Deciphering these messages might be the easier part. Figuring out what to do with them afterward is a lot harder.

Deciphering the messages is pretty darned easy when you COMPLETELY don't understand what the hell you're talking about. As for what to do about them afterward? Drink your frickin' coffee and relax. Oh, and maybe catch up on some geography--at the very least Google what you think you know once in awhile. The results may surprise you.

* * *

Hinda Mandell is a 1998 graduate of Edina High School and an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

That's right, folks. This girl is an ASSISTANT PROFESSOR. Who says there's a higher education bubble? Note to aspiring communication students: Avoid the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, lest you come out of college much, much, MUCH dumber than when you went in.


SIDENOTE: This eye-rollingly stupid article was brought to my attention, via Facebook, by my former blogging colleague, LearnedFoot, who should really get back into blogging, damn it all.

AND ALSO: Yes, I'm aware the last two posts used the word "entropy." My "Word of the Day" toilet paper is really paying off.

Posted by Ryan at 01:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 02, 2011

Literary Entropy

It's a funny thing; when I started this blog--THUNDERJOURNAL--back in 2002 (officially), I had all the writing confidence in the world. After all, I'd been writing for newspapers and magazines for a whopping four+ years up to that point, so of course I thought I knew everything and assumed people would just be in awe of my literary wordplay.

Plus, I was 27, which is an age not yet tempered by the fierce forge of experience and exposure to the wider world. It's funny how you can tack on nine or ten years and all of a sudden doubt borne of nascent wisdom starts to creep in.

After years of slogging through seemingly endless blog comment thread wars, dodging, parrying and thrusting my way through largely pointless and time-consuming argumentative tit-for-tats, it gradually sunk in that some people simply will never agree with me. That, strangely, also breeds doubt, even though those people are nevertheless clearly in the wrong and always will be. It's disheartening to know I'll never sway some people's minds, no matter how deftly I can turn a phrase.

Okay, I'm kidding, mostly. Still, back in 2002 - 2005, at least the comment wars were largely limited to people who inhabited a familiar blog sphere of influence. Now, I take an ill-advised trip through comment threads appended to news articles, and the ignorance, ad hominem attacks, strawmen and just plain tired old arguments that were tired and old years and years ago, grates on the enthusiasm.

Also, you know how I had newspaper and magazine writing experience back in 2002? It really doesn't help the old confidence to know those mediums are mostly dead and dying. Sure, I still write for both, but the old dreams of writing for TIME now strike me as the equivalent of wanting to know how a VCR or Victrola works.

Writing for the diminished online attention span is disheartening in its own way. After years of coming up with fun ways to turn a clever phrase, it's soul crushing to have search engine optimization (SEO) rules--whatever the hell they may be from week to week--looking over my shoulder, reminding me to write like an automaton so whatever I'm writing has a shot of maybe, possibly hitting the top 20 Google search results. Writing should be fun, not a factory.

All of this has stacked up over the years, resulting in a sort of debilitating writer's block, although "writer's block" isn't really the right term, because I have plenty of ideas to write about. However, I hesitate to write them down because I just don't have the same confidence, which is weird when you consider I'm writing freelance articles for a living.

Every time I confront a fresh article, I have to sweep all this mental baggage under the couch and plow ahead largely without thinking, because if I ponder on something too long, eventually I'll find myself staring at a blinking cursor, unable to write the next sentence.

Posted by Ryan at 12:14 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack
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