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August 4th, 2006

Good things come in pairs

Two's the magic number this week.

That's my conclusion after two days in New York (twice two days in a city so nice, they named it twice). I saw for the first time my newest cousins, Ben and Enzo, twins a month old. A morning on Long Island with them and I'm convinced that they, helpless pink blobs though they are, are abominably cute. Also, my aunt is a saint, sleeping two hours at a time to feed these boys. I now understand why my entire extended family is staying with her in coordinated shifts to help her through the early months.

Most of my time, however, was spent with Evan and Katherine as we cut a wide swath across Manhattan. There were complications, to be sure. The temperature was miserable, worse than Houston's because the city isn't an air-conditioned bubble. We suffered, especially after several hours at Liberty Island where the heat became disorienting and dehydrating. Secondly, the two of them decided to start dating a week before the trip. Somehow I was blessed with two people who were consistently charming, and who despite being amusingly cute in a lovey-dovey sense were unfailingly friendly and open. The pair was sweet together, yet there was of the exclusion or awkwardness usual to such a situation. I wasn't a third wheel, or even the sidecar of a motorcycle careening through the New York streets. As the not-gay gay friend of the trio, let me say we had a hell of a good time there.

Jeff and Paul joined us at various points during our adventure. Paul we met at the very end for lunch. The day before, Jeff and I took off to see Arturo Sandoval, one of the best trumpeters alive, as he went wild at the Blue Note. He also saw part of our second night at our sangría dive, where we met Evan and Katherine's friends and our little trio bonded over alcohol. There is nothing more sincere than a group of college students during a late night expressing to one another their opinions, their worries, their hopes, and how to say "I would like another pitcher, please" in Spanish.

July 27th, 2006


Today I received official word from the LSE that I am denied housing.  I'd rather not talk about why-- to do so only angers me, and suffice it to say that it was a combined screwup.  I'm beating my head against a wall for the mistake I made while wondering about how Britain continues to function given the small sample of people I've encountered on the other end of this debacle.

All that aside, I have spent most of the day with a smile on my face.  Perhaps it's because I'd already adjusted to the shock of finding myself bereft of housing, but I've accepted my fate with equanimity.  I'm browsing those listings already up for the year, and am also preparing to fly out two weeks ahead of time to ensure that I have a place.  The expense will probably be slightly more than university residence, as will the distance, but the real cost will come when the exchange rate is factored in.  I can expect to pay $1.95 for every one of those little pounds sterling with the Queen's face on them.  That should be read wryly, not bitterly.  The worst you could describe me as at the present is 'resigned,' and speaking candidly the situation is actually quite quite fun.  I'm too busy scouring the map of London and darting back and forth between the map and flat listings to worry.  I'm fairly unworried, especially because after this past year, any roommate will be an improvement.

July 23rd, 2006

Give and Take

My attempts at updating are continually thwarted by a spotty connection.  Unfortunately, no one who lives here, least of all me, is willing to make the effort to look up Time Warner's tech support no. and actually call.  As soon as my sense of filial piety kicks in, I'll get it taken care of. 

Until then, it's incentive to finish Austen and start with my next clever idea: reading two collections of essays, Blue Like Jazz and Why I Am Not a Christian, concurrently.  Now, the latter is probably more famous, written by Bertrand Russell, and gives his unmistakable views on religion.  Doc let it to me.  JMS lent me the former.  Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller, bills itself as "nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality" and is acclaimed as the best work by a believer writing in a very secular style.  "Miller's words will resonate with any believer who has ever grappled with the paradoxes of faith," goes one review, and according to my source in the Southern Baptist Convention is the book for non-believers, or at least the non-assured. 

I'm not trying to be clever in the derogatory sense of the word, but I thought it would be interesting to roughly alternate between the 15-20 essays in each book.  As a Catholic whose belief in God constantly has "Under Review" stamped on it, this will be interesting, but mostly from an academic point of view.  I'm of neither the "religion is a bane upon society" camp with Russell nor the "Evangelicalism: Yes!" crowd with Miller, and this is not a battle for my soul.  Any such battle would be conducted with dueling fiddles anyway.

Both are sitting atop a stack of ten or so others, waiting for me to finish Sense and Sensibility (which has let me down me, all the more because I loved P&P).  Last I check, neither book had immolated the other, a la Raiders of the Lost Ark.  But that could change at any moment

Why I Can't Win

Now, I could tell you how much my disgust for the city of Galveston has gone up after tonight, or my reaction to an LSE email saying in so many words "Sorry, we have to retract that housing offer you already accepted four months back, but at least London's only the second-most expensive city on Earth to live in."  Instead, I'll post one of the more family-friendly exchanges from the Tactical Field Guide to Romance emails:

Dear *****

My sister has a new boyfriend. How do I tell if he's a homicidal psychopath, Freemason, or similar undesirable trait?'

Wanting to judge character in California

Dear Judge,

Operations in low intensity conflict are often filled with peril and danger. The development of infrastructure will play a major role in garning the support of the indigenous population, but the prudent commander would keep in mind the existance of the insurgent force at all times.

A well run insurgency will often mask its leaders as locals, springing forth by surprise to attack the conventional force. To counter this, it requires a substantial investment in intelligence, counterintelligence, reconnissance and surveillence forces, and the use of both covert and overt special operations forces throughout the target nation.

Information operations should not be ignored, nor should psychological operations, in that they will often shape opinion in the target nation as much (or more than) the use of conventional kinetic attacks. The target should be bombarded with information, mostly truthful, that shape the battlespace to support the friendly objectives.

Oh, and show him your gun collection and your shovel.  Tell him you know how to use both.

Uncle *****

July 22nd, 2006

Oh God.  A pleasant email discussion with sarcastic comments such as " Oh please, that's so Fin de Siècle..." has transformed into something awing and awful.

Mr. Fin de Siecle made another comment: "And don't forget to keep your cavalry in reserve for a flanking maneuver."  This was in reference to a guy headed out on a date.  The datee came back sooner that expected, reporting that the entire thing was a wash.

Monday morning, things went horribly downhill.  One of my friends logs in and sees both the cavalry comment and the report of dating disaster.  Now, keep in mind that this friend is an Army officer currently stationed in Virginia.  His response follows:
To put it in my professional idiom, D was walking through a nice, open, freshly plowed field with a few of his pals. Then 'Boom!' and one of the guys behind him blows up. He can run across the field in the off chance that he won't hit a mine. He can go prone and start slowly probing for more mines.

Or he can retrace his steps as fast as freakin possible and get out of that field. Find another field to cross.

Oh yea, don't forget that obstacles are only effective if covered by direct or indirect fire. So, expect to be machine gunned (i.e., she has more 'friends' or 'issues' you dont know about yet) while trying to crawl across that field.

What can I say? I like analogies.
Things go amusingly out of control on Friday.  Now he's writing a fake Dear Abby called The Tactical Field Guide to Romance.  God help us all:
Dear *****,
I have met a new girl at school, but she is very aggressive and scares me a lot. That and the fact that she has piereced most skin flaps on her body. What should I do?
--Lost in Stockholm

Dear Lost:
When faced with an offensive enemy, the construction of entrenchments must be first priority. The initial 'hasty' position must be further developed to take advantage of terrain, concealment and cover. Liberal use of barbed wire and land mines are also encouraged, as long as they are covered with both direct and indirect fire. Constant counterpatrolling is critical to success, to prevent the enemy from slipping unnoticed into the trench line. Prepatory bombardments should be immedately applied as soon as enemy presence is detected.

Oh yeah, avoid the girl. She probably has hepatitis.
--Uncle *****.

July 21st, 2006

L'Arsenal and Tottenham

My friend had this to say about rooting for a certain Premier League team: "supporting Charlton is like being sentenced to death, then reprieved to life in solitary. Think of Papillion eating bugs in the dark, but for the rest of your life."  With that in mind, I asked him to recommend which team he'd have me root for:

Honestly, and I'm going to be shot by my fellow Tottenham brothers in misery: Arsenal. Any sane, rational and unmedicated person would choose Arsenal. I still think they're pretty much closest to the Red Wings, while Charlton are Rutgers Football: happy to be alive, and if they get a win against someone notable it's a carnival.

If Arsenal were a city they'd be Boston: many tourist admirers from outside, a lot more money than living in Topeka, a small but present establishment of WASPy old money, and a lot of entertainment once you get there and meet the 40,000 co-eds. Charlton is San Francisco... during the initial month after the Great Fire. Maybe comparable with living in Flint: hardy types who feel superior that they can bear it, and absolutely no chance of anyone, other than the kidnapped or relocated by the Witness Protection Program moving in.

But, you're a Texan, and unless a fan of the Cowboys, almost entirely unused to success in any form or shape. Oh, what about the Stars you say, or the Spurs, pffffff. Fleeting moments gone in a moonbeam. No, Texans are Rangers or Astros fans, Houston Oiler diehards, and have no interest in basketball or hockey. So you may be uncomfortable with Arsenal, their combination of decent football and results will disturb your natural urge to be disapointed. Thus, I give you Tottenham, a team who will fulfill every desire for pain, excitement and occasional joy.

Arsenal is the cheerleader captain dressed in hot pants and belly shirts. Always tanned, always pert, and despite everyone being envious of you, the the great (if unvaried) sex, there's something missing: there's a hole which can't be fulfilled because you're dating someone everyone else likes and wants. You feel unease that the dream may soon end, you become insecure and short tempered, you grow bitter, jealous and hopeless everytime she slights you. In the end, you take your own life because she find out you've been having her followed by a PD and dumps you.

Tottenham is the late bloomer, the girl who played tackle in middle school recess and listened to all the bands you like before they were famous. She looks a bit ropey in the mornings, but occasionally, when she's had the hair freshly done, when she can be bothered to put in contacts and wear something nice: she turn's everyone's heads. You have no idea where she learnt those things she does: she's filthy, uninhibited and insatiable. But she's moody, manic and self destructive, a binge and purge rollercoaster on the edge of sanity. She's unpredictable and nasty, spiteful and mean, but always calls to apologise and promises things will get better........they never do, but you love her all the same
I have unwittingly created an international incident in the office.

This is what I get for being the only guy in the department.

As is customary in These Parts, the women in the unit organize a baby shower for one of our coworkers, eight months expecting. Everyone, save me, is a woman in her early thirties who is either engaged, just married, or pregnant. That makes office life more interesting, though sometimes not as fun as you would expect.

In a fit of discriminatory pique (read: sound judgment) I am assigned to bring the utensils. And nothing else. They're smart: asking a young male to bring food for a baby shower is courting disaster. There were a few jokes about how I'd bring in beers for everyone, the mother-to-be included.

To the day of: I bring the plastic forks and petit fours. Soon I'm under relentless interrogation by the women, the subject being where I got the beloved little desserts. Now, as they're piling enchiladas onto their plates they won't actually try the petit fours on the grounds it'll hurt their figure. They're all very keen to discover which bakery I used, but they won't touch the treats.

C'est la guerre.

We put our guesses down for the baby's weight as squabbling erupts over the diameter of her belly. The combatants asemble and battle lines form. We'll measure in toilet paper squares, and the winner will be the proud new owner of a Yankee Candle. In the midst of this I make some inquiries about much babies normally weigh. The answers ranged from helpful to "just put down your best guess, hon" with a malicious gleam.

Our guest of honor opens up her gifts while inquiring minds consider her belly. There's the appropriate cooing for each gift, and worse, squees of delight when she opens my gift. She's quick to inform everyone that the blankets' colors match the nursery and insists that everyone feel how soft they are. A progression of squees follows. I die a little on the inside.

Unfortunately, politeness proves to be the death of me. I guess the lowest of number of TP plies. As she's measured we discover to my chagrin that I overshot by a little... while everyone else had wildly high estimates. This makes me the proud owner of two lilac- and strawberry-scented candles.

Never, ever get between young working women and baby- or home-related gifts. I didn't want to get into this. Hell, I don't even deserve this-- I went low to avoid jumping into a crowded field and to say 'pshaw' to any self-consciousness about her belly's size. I robbed 'em anyways. Inadvertently.

Let me give you an example of the aftereffects: three women who'd been arguing about the size of the mother-to-be turn from their snarky remarks not to belittle me, but something far, far worse. This is the new Judgment of Paris. I'm practically being wooed for these two candles.

The day ends with me successfully delaying the enemy onslaught. One candle goes to my momma, and the other to the secretary who's pulled my chestnuts out of the fire on a number of occasions. Crisis averted.

However, a week later, our coworker gives birth (early). They're both fine, and the boy clocks in at 6 pounds, 1 ounce. Which means I'm the winner of more Yankee Candles. As soon as I hear the news, I leave the office early and head home.

July 17th, 2006

I'll christen this with a post about weddings. I sent this originally as an email to some friends, whose reactions, and my post mortem, follow my dilemma:

One of my closest family friends is getting married late this evening to a woman who can best be described as merely cold on her best day. Now, I'm the oldest male in the family and will have to make some sort of toast, but how do I do it?

Let me give you an example of her character: My mother and my sister hosted the couple's wedding shower. The fiancée didn't say a word to either of them, and then publicly thanked her future sister-in-law for shower at our house. There were literally gasps in the crowd of partygoers when she did this.

So, I'm obligated to do something.
a) No toast. Keep quiet for our very good friend
b) Toast, ignore her, and focus on him. Because we have nothing good to say about her. Still, a major snub at what is the bride's day
c) Lie, and toast the both of them who will certainly have a long and happy marriage... I hope.

"I'd say that depends on how good you are at telling a blatant lie with a straight face."

"Get too drunk to toast."

"Right, here's what you do. You get the oldest, frailest female relative you've got. Then, you call for order, and she stands up. She then announces, in no uncertain terms, what a horrible, horrible mistake he's making, and that the whole family will never talk to him again, until he drops "That super-bitch." The whole family stands, and turns it's back on the two of them, in silence, before bending over and giving a full-gun fart salute in their general direction. You all then file out."

"My momma taught me two things...
1) Don't lie
2) If don't have anything nice to say, say it under your breath to a bystander.
Using these lessons, which my mom really didn't teach me, say nothing to the bride, but continue to bad mouth her to your family."

Let me prefaced the abridged after action report with these comments: My father deliberately scheduled a business trip to Kazakhstan to avoid this wedding. One sister called Southwest to spend another day taking care of our aunt's newborns rather than return home in time. And at the rehearsal dinner last night, our family's circle of friends (the entire groom's side) abided by my friend's momma's advice: keep your snide comments whispered to the rest of your table. I'm fantastically impartial compared to everyone else.

I had a toast ready. I decided I would related how my good friend was a stand-up guy, et cetera, a role model for me, which was why I took the fall for him when my dad asked who had been in his liquor cabinet. The friends of my parents I was with approved. Added in the de rigeur bit about their partnership being so great, blah blah. Excellent thus far.

The reception starts serving appetizers after we're there for an hour. Everyone was late to start with due to an exceptionally long homily. The bridal party arrives thirty minutes later. Food isn't served for another forty-five minutes.

Toasts are done another half hour later by a groomsman and the bride's mother. And that's it. I find out that the bride's family doesn't want any other toasts done. At all.

The cake is finally cut, a full three hours after the event starts. Music starts half an hour later. My God, by this time in a wedding reception, I'm usually good friends with either the bartender or a bridesmaid (I jest, but the alliteration was too good to pass up). The damn thing has barely started. Now, my friend, the groom, has invited twenty people my age, let's say.  Besides his sister, who he only met two years ago in the highest traditions of soap opera, his brother's girlfriend, and my sister and I, the other fifteen all went to college with him.  Good people, but I've just met them and they keep to themselves.  The bride's side has a handful of people my age, none of whom look happy.   The girl I'd been flirting with at the rehearsal dinner (and denounced as a slut by my older sister) didn't show.  Another girl, still in high school, asks why I'm not dancing-- her father is seated right next to her and gives me a death glare.  Bar's only serving wine and tepid beer. The circumstances keep on getting worse. The DJ plays stuff like the chicken dance and what sounds like bad Sinatra ripoffs. We manage to convince my mother to leave as the reception continues its slow death spiral, and our entire table makes for the door as if it were the last lifeboat on the Titanic.

The only good news out of this entire event is that I spoke with a family friend at BP. Basically told me that with my degree and her rec a job offer was guaranteed. Which would be great, if I wanted to work for BP and were going to graduate some time before 2009.
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