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A [Mostly] Good Week

March 27th, 2009 No comments

It’s Friday afternoon and I just got back from a good 40-minute jog as I’ve been doing about five days a week for almost two months now. I’m not in any kind of mood at all, good or bad, but looking back on the week I can see that (except for one little thing I can’t speak of) it’s been an exceptionally good one.

On Monday I finally found the apartment I’ll be moving to. It’s about a five minute walk from where I am now, so I won’t have to give up any of the benefits of this location. It’s not furnished, but rent is less than half of what it is here so once I buy all the necessary crap I’ll be saving a ton of money. The only catch is that I had to sign a 12-month lease. I’m not exactly sure what the terms are but I’d probably have to pay a substantial penalty if I decided to stick with my plan of leaving for Japan in the Fall. But I did some thinking and I feel like it might actually be a good idea to just stick it out for another year and save up some money now that I’m finally going to be in a position where I’ll be able to save money. Between the reduced rent, the substitution gig at the International School, and possibly a few more English lessons from another language school I applied to and just heard back from called the Wall Street Institute, I should start doing pretty well. It just doesn’t seem right somehow that I move to Germany and spend over half the time just working my way out of the debt I accumulated from moving here. I haven’t made any firm decisions as of yet, but I’m leaning towards staying. The only real factor that would make me want to leave is this climate. After a year and a half of perpetually sunny Santa Barbara I haven’t minded the perpetually overcast and drizzly Hannover, but I’m not too excited about the prospect of another 8-month long winter.

I felt pretty good on Monday night until something came along and massively fucked with my brain. I can’t go into the details in this journal entry, but I dealt with it on Tuesday and wrote about it extensively on Wednesday in a separate document which I’ll probably end up posting on the web-site in spite of my better judgment. But that was the one dark blotch on the week.

Yesterday was a fantastic day. I woke up to be greeted by an e-mail from Krissi, who is apparently entertaining the idea of leaving San Diego in the Fall to do some world-travelling with me. Pessimist that I am, I doubt that it’ll really happen, but it’s nice that she’s even considering the possibility. So that immediately put me in a good mood that lasted the rest of the day.

For the first of my classes in Helmstedt, the really advanced one, we just went through an 18-page article from Rolling Stone written by Matt Taibbi about the financial crisis and how bankers have basically taken over the American government. Apparently their too-big-to-fail status means that even when they go bankrupt the government has to keep them afloat. Meanwhile smaller financial institutions die out and all we’re left with are these giant mega-corporations that can basically dictate whatever terms they want to whomever they want, including the president of the United States. The people who ruined the economy are running things now, and there’s not a damn thing anybody can do about it. Anyway, it’s a great article and the students thought so too. It’s always a good feeling to know I got people thinking, especially when it’s about something important.

I was a bit nervous about my lesson with the apprentices, however, as on Tuesday afternoon I got an e-mail informing me that my boss Frank would be sitting in and observing me for that lesson. How utterly annoying. Can’t I just do my half-assed job in peace? Now I actually have to try really hard so he doesn’t think it was a mistake to hire me. Luckily, I was quite prepared and the lesson went really well. The students, not oblivious to the fact that I was being evaluated, seemed to want to help me out as much as possible. When Frank finally left, he mouthed “good job” to me and walked out the door, then we all breathed a sigh of relief, put the books away, and played Pictionary for the rest of the class.

And last night I went to Quiz Night again at the Dublin Inn. This time it was just me and Alan but we had some pleasant conversation. Apparently Frank had sat in on one of his classes that day as well, but unfortunately for him only one student showed up and it was someone who’d never been to class before so it was really quite uncomfortable (probably even moreso for the student). We did pretty well on the quiz for a team of just two, but we ended up losing. Fine by me, as I have to get up early Friday mornings and I have no desire for the free shots you get by winning. Unfortunately, they know us there, so losing didn’t matter. The really hot Polish waitress who works there, Magdalena, snuck two shots our way while she was passing them out to the winners. I didn’t ask for that, but thanks. When a hot waitress hands you a shot just because she likes you, of course you have to take it. I mean, come on. And then when we were just finishing up, the Irish-Catholic woman who runs the quiz, Debbie, came up to chat with us and offered us a shot of Jägermeister, which is only supposed to only be free for the winners but she likes us so that was that. Well, fuck. Okay then. So although we didn’t win the quiz we got the same treatment. Alan put it best when he said, “It just goes to show it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

All in all a very pleasant day. I paid for it this morning with a shitty feeling going into my classes, but it really wasn’t all that bad. I still felt the effects just a little bit when I got back home but apparently it wasn’t bad enough to prevent me from going for a run, although it was definitely more of a strain than usual.

And now I’m looking forward to a nice long weekend of isolation, relaxation, and a few other “-ations” that are a regular staple of my existence.

Updates on Nongoing Situations

March 23rd, 2009 No comments

There are a few things I mentioned in recent and not-so-recent journal entries that I haven’t followed up on, usually because there’s been nothing to say. So I’ve decided to devote one entry to confirming that regarding these issues there is indeed nothing to say.

The only thing that’s actually happening is my search for a new apartment. I checked out two places on Saturday, both of which I’d tolerate but neither of which was in an ideal location. Today I’m looking at two much more ideally-located places and I expect I’ll choose to move to one of them. But to make things nice and complicated, it’s exactly one week until the end of the month, which is the exact amount of time my landlady asked me to give her notice if I decided to move out. She, however, has been on vacation this month, so I might not be able to reach her today and have to call her nephew. Of course, even if I do decide to move to one of these places I won’t have confirmation today and it’s always possible they’ll rent the place to someone else. So the odds of me moving out on April 1st are low, but I can’t move at the exact half-way point of the month either because I’ll be in Ichenheim from the 10th to the 15th. I might have to eat another 600-euro rent payment and move out in May. But whatever happens, I’m sure it will be quite frustrating and needlessly complicated. Still, it’ll be worth it to save nearly 300 euros a month.

The other things I’m doing to make more money have yielded no results so far. I haven’t heard from the International School since they “hired” me, but I’m not expecting to until after Easter anyway. I also sent my resume to another language school called the Wall Street Institute but I haven’t heard anything from them either.

That’s the financial front. Things on the romantic front are even less active. After entertaining the possibility of meeting Tereza outside of class to help her with her presentation, the whole thing just ended up being her sending me a rough outline of her presentation through e-mail and me making some corrections and suggestions. She thanked me when I saw her in class this past Thursday but that was it. Not that I’m extremely disappointed or anything. She’s cute as hell but I’m sure if it came right down to it and I found I could actually have her, I would no longer be interested. Of course at this point in my life I think I’d try to push myself into going for it anyway.

Taking a step back and looking at myself and my life situation right now, it’s pretty clear to me that I just about match the definition of a pathetic loser. Luckily, it’s rare that I’ve seen myself in any other light, so I’m quite used to it. From where I’m situated somewhere behind my eyes at the nexus between physical brain matter and mental energy, when considering only the subjective experiences of my life as I live them, everything’s pretty damn good. I spend the vast majority of my time doing what I want to do, and only very little time doing things I have to do that I’d rather not be doing. Yet that somehow feels upside-down to me. Ironically, I sometimes feel I’d be happier if I did more work and had less fun.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

St. Patrick’s in Kassel

March 20th, 2009 No comments

In all my years of life I don’t think I’ve ever celebrated St. Patrick’s Day like you’re really supposed to. Three years ago I went to a strip bar with Marc (that was also the only time in my adult life that I’ve ever seen a naked vagina) but I certainly haven’t done anything since then to mark the occasion. But this past Tuesday I went with Oliver down to the town of Kassel where he grew up and where some of his Irish friends who had a little band would be playing in a pub down there. I almost didn’t go due to my tax issues, but I had enough of Amanda’s money to pay for everything and if I need to borrow more before April I can always ask. But drinking Guinness at an Irish pub with live music playing is probably the only way to really celebrate the holiday, which even to the Irish is just an excuse to get more drunk than usual, and I wanted to do it right this time.

The two-hour drive down wasn’t so bad, and after checking into our hostel (a nice little room with two beds so we didn’t have to share) we went next door to where Oliver’s grandmother lives to have a little Abendessen and some beer. Oliver’s grandmother was as nice as you’d expect an old German grandmother to be. It was a lot easier to understand her than my own German family with their heavy dialect, and I was even able to communicate fairly well. She lamented not being able to drink beer anymore due to all the medications she has to take at her age, and told me that as you get older the mind remains sharp but the body stops working, which apparently is quite frustrating. I can only imagine.

After some bread and cheese and two beers, we were ready to go to the pub. We got to there around 8 and paid our 5 euro entrance fee. I was happy to discover when we got in that the atmosphere was really nice. There were no seats free, but it wasn’t completely jammed as I’d been fearing. We were able to stand around one of the seatless tables and order our first round of Guinness. There were a couple of big screens on which The Simpsons (in English) was being projected. Oliver and his German friend Frank whom he’s known forever went outside for a smoke while I remained inside and watched the episode, which was actually one I’d never seen before in which the Simpsons go to Ireland. I guess it couldn’t have been a more appropriate place and time to watch it, and although I was standing there alone it felt nice to be laughing along with everyone else at the pub.

Oliver and Frank got back in once the episode had finished, and while they finished their respective beers I ordered another one, apparently without them noticing. We went up to the bar and Oliver ordered another round of three drinks, so within a few minutes I found myself with two beers. So I just had to drink a little faster. They also ordered a round of shots of Jäger, which I drank without protest.

The timing was perfect, as the band took the stage just a minute or two later. It was just a little area raised slightly higher than the floor of the rest of the bar, and the band was just two guitars and a drummer. I found out later that some people were saying they weren’t very good, that their timing was off or whatever, but I sure as shit didn’t notice. I had gotten so drunk so quickly that before I knew it I was right in front of the stage dancing like a fool, but amidst a few others who were dancing like fools as well.

The rest of the night is naturally a bit of a haze, but I know I had a damned good time. Occasionally I would find myself with more beer although I’d have no idea how, and a few times I went outside for a cigarette, at one point talking to Frank in German with my alcohol-enhanced German skills.

At the beginning I’d been scanning the room for the girl. You know, the really beautiful girl to whom I direct all of my emotional attention throughout the night and end up going home all depressed and angry because I couldn’t even talk to her. There were a few candidates but luckily I never got fixated. Too drunk even for that I suppose. But the pub definitely had its fair share of hotties, most of whom spent a good amount of time on the dance floor in close proximity to me. At one point one of the girls asked me where I was from and got a kick out of the fact that I was from New Jersey. I think she was American too. I suppose if I’d been a bit more sober I would have attempted to keep the conversation going or something, but I wasn’t in anything close to a sexually-motivated state of mind. It definitely struck me that a hot girl had just come up and talked to me of her own free will (that never happens to me) but I didn’t dwell on it at all.

Most of the time I was just lost in the music, which might not have been played as superbly as it sounded to me but the song selection was almost as though it had me in mind. Almost everything they played was some kind of classic rock song I liked. There was some U2 interspersed throughout the night, and some Chili Peppers and other relatively new stuff, but they also played Wish You Were Here and Another Brick in the Wall, and they closed the show wist Free Bird. I was singing and clapping along like a goddamn drunken moron to every song I knew, and the next day my throat and my hands hurt in addition to the sore muscles from dancing.

It was only after the band had ended that my mind shifted exclusively to the hot girls there, specifically the one who had actually talked to me, and I entertained the idea of trying to talk to her again but I knew it would be pointless. I was just kind of imagining how awesome it would be to feel their naked bodies, but I had no intention of trying to make anything like that happen, as I knew it would be completely impossible. I was aware of how drunk I was, and how totally not-gorgeous I am.

When we finally left (apparently around 4) we stumbled out of there with half-full glasses of Guinness in our hands and walked with them back to the hostel. So I even got a free Guinness glass out of the ordeal. I have absolutely no idea what we were saying on the way back but we were definitely laughing and belligerent all along the way. Frank was with us so we were probably talking German but I don’t remember. As soon as we got back in the hostel I took a piss, put on some comfortable clothes and passed out in my bed.

We had to leave the hostel at 9:00 so it was only about 4 or 5 hours of sleep before I woke up to see that Oliver had already showered and we were getting ready to leave. I put my day clothes back on, dragged a comb through my hair, and we left. I still felt drunk from the night before, but there was no pounding headache or nausea or anything.

The first thing we did was drive up to the hills that surround Kassel (it’s a very beautiful city actually—not flat like Hannover) and went for a little hike. The weather was lovely and the hike was just fantastic. I didn’t say much, but luckily I didn’t have to because Frank and Oliver were talking in German about whatever it was they were talking about, and my powers of comprehension were now diminished from the night before.

The hike culminated with a little rock-climbing up to a peak from which you could look down on all of Kassel and at the forest-covered hills all around. That was just spectacular. It reminded me of reaching the summit of those mountains in Santa Barbara, only with a much cloudier mind. But we remained up there for a nice amount of time, soaking in the scenery and the fresh air, appreciating the beauty of the moment, and then we climbed back down and walked back to the car.

The next few hours, unfortunately, kind of sucked. I was already very hungry when we got back in the car around noon, and I was hoping we’d be going to a restaurant or something but instead we stopped at a grocery store. That meant I’d have to wait until something was cooked. Our next destination was Frank’s apartment, which was messy and smelly and extremely cold because he liked to keep the window open due to the fact that he smokes like a chimney. I found a comfortable chair and plopped down, lying back while the two of them got the food going in the kitchen. The next two hours were almost sheer torture. I just wanted to eat and drive home, but the cooking took nearly two hours and the whole time I was hungry, bored, and freezing cold.

But when lunch finally came it was almost worth the wait, so at least that was something. Oliver is a great fucking cook and this was the best-tasting meal I’d had in awhile. When it was done Oliver wanted to take a little 20-minute nap before going, and I did the same although of course there was no actual sleeping involved.

We finally bid Frank farewell and got back in the car. I asked Oliver where we were going now, hoping he’d say Hannover, but instead we were going back to his grandmother’s house to pick up some sausages. So I got to see her again, and this time I could hardly communicate at all but we didn’t stay long. Oliver told her that his Irish friend Aiden was waiting for us to come and give him a ride back to Hannover. Fuck, I thought. Yet another thing to do before heading back.

We drove to the bar where Aiden had told Oliver to meet him, and of course he wasn’t there when we got there. The waitress informed us that he and the guy he was with had just left twenty minutes ago. Fucking great. Oliver called him and found out they’d gone for a walk up to the statue of Hercules that overlooks the city, and they’d be back at the Irish pub from last night in half an hour. Fantastic.

Oliver remarked that it would probably be more like an hour, as the Hercules was pretty far from the bar. But we drove up there ourselves hoping we might run into him. We didn’t, but in spite of my ever-growing frustration at wanting to just get the fuck back home I managed to appreciate the scenery. The statue itself was kind of cool but the view from the top of that mountain was almost as spectacular as the view from the rock we’d climbed that morning. There were some families there with their kids and one of the little boys was throwing a tantrum like I’ve never heard before, echoing along the mountainside where a giant staircase/garden had been built. At one point he screamed “Ein, zwei, fuck you!” Oliver and I found that quite hilarious.

Once we felt like enough time had passed we got back in the car and drove back to the Irish pub. The place was empty (it was 4 in the afternoon now) except for the Irish people from last night including the band members. I hadn’t spoken much to them the night before but apparently they remembered me. Not surprising. I was probably hard to miss with all my idiotic singing and clapping.

In any case, Aiden from Ireland (one of the guitar players) was almost ready when we got there and asked if we could also bring this guy Lukas back with us. Lukas is one of those guys who looks like Jesus. I actually met him a few weeks ago at the Irish pub in Hannover after the Grünkohlwanderung. He sounds Irish but apparently he’s from Wisconsin. The four of us finally got out of there and back into the car, and my attitude finally changed back to something relatively pleasant now that we were finally on our way.

It also helped at Aiden is a really funny guy, and he kept the drive back pretty entertaining with plenty of jokes and anecdotes. He referred to Hannover as “Hangover”—a pun that I can’t believe has never occurred to me even after seven months of living here. We got back to Hangover around quarter to seven just as the sun was setting so that was nice as well. We pulled up to Lena’s place and unloaded from the vehicle. Lena came out and we exchanged pleasantries. I bid them farewell pretty quickly, and Lukas said he’d head back on the tram with me as we were heading in the same direction. So I got to know him a bit on the way back, one of the few other Americans I’ve encountered since coming back to Germany. Apparently he was a farmer in Wisconsin and now works at a golf course just outside of the city. He also wants to see more of the world like I plan to do, but he’s got a girlfriend and a lot of good friends here so he imagines he’ll probably stay for a long time if not his whole life. I guess I’m just lucky to be the kind of guy who never has a girlfriend or particularly close friends.

When I got back home I took one of the most fantastic-feeling showers of my life and noticed that I suddenly felt extremely good about my life. Now that the experience was officially just a memory it took on a whole new quality. Once again I’d gone out and had a real life experience with other people and produced a few good memories that will last forever. As isolated as I am most of the time, I still manage to have a good time and as much of a social life as I desire.

Most importantly, I rediscovered something I’ve always known but which I tend to forget during longer periods of relative alone-ness: that I prefer being alone. I actually only really feel lonely when I’m around other people. I definitely enjoy the company of others from time to time and I consider it completely worthwhile to have some kind of social life. But whenever I am out in the real world interacting with people and so forth, I just keep thinking about how great it’ll be when I get home and I can do everything on my own terms without being at the mercy of other people’s plans or decisions.

In any case, despite some minor frustration and impatience of the day, and some slight embarrassment over the extreme drunkenness of the night, it was a pretty damn good trip overall and I’m quite glad I decided to do it. Amanda’s money was well spent.

Death & Taxes (1)

March 15th, 2009 No comments

Yesterday I had a terribly rude financial awakening. For the past few months I’d thought I’d been making enough money to live, and that all I had to be concerned about was finding another job and cheaper place in order to make even more money so I could afford to have more experiences and travel around. But apparently I hadn’t even been earning enough to live.

I had needed to exchange my empty case of beer for a new one, and as she’s done twice in the past Amanda agreed to take me to the Getränkemarkt in her car. Of course she also wanted to run a few additional errands so we found ourselves in downtown Linden, one of the many little areas that make up the larger city of Hannover, and I went off to an ATM to try to get some cash. The ATM at my bank, the Hannoversche Volksbank, was down so I had to try one at another bank, and was given a message that I couldn’t withdraw any money. I couldn’t check my balance from another bank but I was a little worried, so Amanda and I walked to the nearest Volksbank and I checked my account to discover that instead of the nearly 600 Euros I thought I had in my account, I now have negative 45. Amanda showed me how to use the other machine to print out my statement, which I did to discover that two days before the German government had quietly and without warning removed 638 Euros from my account for taxes.

Needless to say this put me in a bit of a sour mood. I thought I was doing just fine and then all of a sudden I find out I’m broke again. Luckily, Amanda was kind enough to offer to lend me some cash, and I figured I’d rather ask her than go crawling to my parents for the eight hundredth time, so I took 100 Euros from her which will last me a couple of weeks if I do it right. Of course this Tuesday, St. Patrick’s day, I already agreed to go with Oliver to Kassel to an Irish Pub where he’d be meeting one of his friends from Ireland and we’d be getting trashed and staying the night at a hostel. That’s something I obviously can’t afford right now, but the hostel is already booked so I feel like I should just go anyway and have a good time.

Practically speaking, this isn’t such a devastating thing. I’ll be getting about 1000 dollars back from my U.S. taxes pretty soon, as well as about 1000 Euros from Planeo at the beginning of next month. I was going to use my tax refund to pay off most of the nearly $1200 debt to my bank, but now I guess I’ll just have to pay back less of that debt than I thought I would. But I’ll be back in the green at the beginning of April no matter what, so there’s nothing too dire about this situation. I’ll be able to afford rent even if I don’t find another place by then, so it’s okay. It’s just shitty and annoying that all that money just evaporated out of nowhere. I’d had no idea that that’s how Germany took my taxes—just one big chunk directly from my account without any notice. From a conversation I had with Frank from Planeo awhile ago, I thought that they took the money for my income taxes directly from Planeo, but I guess I misunderstood. If I’d been expecting that money to disappear it wouldn’t be so bad.

Anyway, I’ll just trudge along until the end of the month and then slowly get back on my feet again. If I can find another apartment this will hardly matter at all in the long run.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

Hopeless Possibility

March 12th, 2009 No comments

I haven’t mentioned Tereza in this journal for months, mostly because it’s nothing more than a mild infatuation that I never intended to pursue. Not that I would even have intended to pursue it if the infatuation was more than mild, but it’s helped that the desire isn’t very strong.

Today before class while I was sitting alone in the computer room where the class is held, she came to see me to ask me if I could give her any tips on a presentation she has to do for school in two weeks. Apparently she has to give a 90-minute presentation in English to a class about how to give a presentation. Naturally I immediately saw this as an opportunity. Here she was asking for my help in a sort-of non-class related way. Sure, it has to do with English and it has to do with a class she’s taking, but it’s not MY English class. But she said that she wanted to ask me because she thought I would have some experience in that area.

We had about a five minute chat then, basically just clarifying what she needed to do and what kind of help she wanted from me, and then I told I’d have to think about what I could do and we could talk about it later during class. As it happened, I’m having the class do little English presentations of their own, so I’d found a website earlier about how to give a presentation. While all the students were working, I gave them the website and then personally showed Tereza all the stuff on there she could use. It really was perfect for what she has to do—it covers everything that really needs to be covered in terms of how to give a presentation in English—and she was quite grateful to me for finding it.

I let class-time run out, however, without talking to her any more about it, trying to visualise myself offering her my services outside of class, perhaps meeting sometime on the weekend or after class next week. When class was over and everyone was leaving, she turned to say goodbye but I beckoned her over and actually did what I’d visualised. I said that if she wanted I could meet with her outside of class to help her out. She said she wasn’t sure what her plan was but I should give her my e-mail address so she could contact me if she needs help. I had my e-mail open on the computer so I just asked for hers and sent her an e-mail so now she has mine.

On our way out the door she expressed her gratitude to me for being willing to help her out. This is apparently a very important presentation which will make the difference in her final grade. As she was talking I just became completely overwhelmed with how adorable she is. She struggles hard with her English and she makes a ton of mistakes and stops every few words or so to search for the right word, which she often can’t find and then she just smiles that nervous smile of hers with all those perfect little teeth and I can’t help but smile back. At that point I had the biggest urge to just grab her and kiss her.

But I told her that I’m happy to help my students if they need anything, which felt shitty of me because I wouldn’t be offering my native-English-speaking services for free to a student I wasn’t also attracted to. But there was a part of me that just got nervous that she might think that the only reason I was offering my services was because I’m interested in her. As much as I get the vibe that she’s attracted to me too, I just can’t shake the idea that the second a girl knows I’m interested in her she’ll grow cold and back away. At least that’s been my experience about 100% of the time. Hence the only way I could have asked to see her outside of class was under some other pretence.

But overall I’m pretty happy about that occurrence. If she really is interested in me, this is her opportunity. She’s got my e-mail address and a perfect excuse to meet with me privately. If she’s not interested I won’t hear from her and I can rest assured that I did what I could and there was never any possibility with her in the first place. As of this moment I completely expect that I won’t even hear from her.

If, however, she does want to meet outside of class, that’s when things get a whole hell of a lot more difficult for me. How exactly am I supposed to make a move on a girl, let alone a student? I mean, teachers and students get into these inappropriate relationships all the time, but it’s usually because the teacher seduces the student and my powers of seduction are completely nonexistent. All I can hope for is that it happens organically like it does in movies and TV shows. A pregnant pause. Staring into each others eyes. Faces slowly inching closer together. Next thing you know we’re kissing. What a lovely idea. Too bad it’ll never happen.

Anyway, this is a nice little something extra to think about for awhile, even though I’m 99.9% certain that nothing will ever come of it. So appropriately, I have no hope, but that doesn’t mean I won’t let myself enjoy this brief period of time in which the possibility (hopeless as it is) exists.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

Purely Political

March 11th, 2009 No comments

Nothing that I feel is noteworthy has happened in the past week, so I haven’t written any entries. A couple of months ago I had intended to write not just personal entries for this journal, but political and philosophical things as well. But aside from a few things about some interesting class discussions I’ve had, I haven’t really written anything political in the sense that I’d assumed I would, and there’s a very simple reason for that.

I spend a lot of time in the liberal blogosphere, and most of what I read I agree with. I don’t feel compelled to write political blog entries of my own because it seems that everything I have to say is already being said by hundreds if not thousands of others.

Yesterday, however, in response to an e-mail from my conservative grandfather, I wrote some of my own political arguments regarding things like the economic stimulus and the issue of torture. Today it dawned on me that the only way to motivate me to write political blog entries is in response to something I disagree with. I won’t feel compelled to write anything simply to agree with something some other blogger wrote, but if I look at arguments I DISAGREE with, I can get pretty enthusiastic about attacking those positions and defending my own. So I think I’ll start venturing more onto the conservative blogs and stuff in search of fodder for me to argue against, and post my arguments here.

I’ll start with the e-mail I sent to my grandfather. He made three basic points to which I’m responding: 1- The economic stimulus bill is nothing but pork and wasteful spending. 2- It’s okay for the U.S. to torture because we should allow ourselves any method available to us for obtaining information from terrorists if we can prevent a bomb from going off and killing innocent people. 3- Now that we’re closing Guantanamo, where are we going to put these dangerous prisoners? Surely not on OUR soil. Here are my responses:

The economy is a bit trickier because it’s so complicated and I really don’t know the right approach. All I know is what I learned in high school about the Great Depression, how a spending freeze under Hoover made the situation much worse and how massive government spending under Roosevelt helped a little but we didn’t pull out until government spending became even more massive thanks to WWII. I know a lot of republicans are trying to re-write history and say FDR caused the depression, but this is ridiculous because the depression started BEFORE him, and the statistics clearly show that the New Deal reduced unemployment from 25 to 15 percent.

So I’m willing to give Obama’s stimulus plan the benefit of the doubt. The republicans call these projects “pork” and they pick out a few little things here and there, less than 1% of the overall plan, and make them sound very silly and like wasteful spending. Improving railway infrastructure becomes a “magnetic levitation line between Disney and a brothel in Las Vegas”, even though that language isn’t in the bill at all. What exactly is the difference between pork and legitimate economically-stimulative spending?

It seems to me that they just want to oppose Obama to score their own political points in their own conservative districts. When it comes to having a plan of their own, what have they offered? More tax-cuts for big business. Well, big business has paid very low taxes for decades and the economy is still tanking so I don’t see how more tax-cuts could possibly be the answer. A spending freeze? That’s exactly what Hoover did that made the Great Depression even worse. And as far as these accusations of pork and earmarks go, in the last bill that just passed, 6 out of every 10 earmarks was made by a republican. It’s seems so obvious to me that they’re a bunch of obstructionist hypocrites with no good ideas of their own. The only thing they do well is attack Obama.

You probably don’t agree with any of that, and I’m willing to admit that I could be wrong because I’m not an economist and for all I know the things that didn’t work in the 30s WOULD work today. Things are a lot different nowadays. I guess we’ll see.

But as for the issue of torture, I think that if you dug a little deeper into the issue you would come around to my point of view. As a Christian you probably already believe that torture in essence is morally wrong. You just think that if there’s a ticking time-bomb, a government agent should have the freedom to torture the information out of a terrorist in order to stop the bomb. I also agree with that, but the fact is that these situations only occur in action movies and the show 24. Just because it MIGHT happen doesn’t mean we should make torture our POLICY for how to handle all prisoners. I don’t know if you’ve seen any interviews with Matthew Alexander, a former interrogator for the army who wrote that a significant chunk of Iraqi and al Quada terrorists were recruited BECAUSE of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. These places WEAKEN our national security because they create MORE terrorists. He also wrote that the only effective way to get information is not to beat it out of them (people will say anything to stop the pain, whether it’s true or not) but to treat them with respect and fool them into thinking you’re their friend so they’ll open up to you. It’s what they used on Saddam Hussein and it’s what led to the arrest of many other terrorists.

So when I say I’m against torture what I mean is I’m against making it our POLICY to torture. Certainly, if this action-movie scenario actually happened and there really was a ticking time-bomb and a terrorist who knew how to disarm it, I would absolutely let the interrogator break as many bones and pull as many teeth as he would have to in order to get the information. Then I would put the interrogator on trial for all the world to see, let him explain why he did what he had to do, and trust a jury of intelligent people to find him NOT GUILTY, as everyone would understand that he had no other choice and thousands would be dead if he hadn’t broken the law. If a jury feels that someone had a good reason to kill another person–maybe that person was threatening their family–they usually find them not guilty. It doesn’t mean we have to make it legal to murder just because SOMETIMES it’s the right thing to do. So I’m not saying torture can never be used under any circumstances, I’m just saying that it shouldn’t be made LEGAL to do so, let alone this country’s POLICY–which only hurts our image abroad and recruits more terrorists.

Hopefully you’ll see that this is not just some wishy-washy liberal peace-and-love argument. Both the moral argument AND the practical, how-do-we-defeat-terrorism argument point to the same answer: we shouldn’t torture. I sincerely hope you’ll do some reading about this and come to your own conclusions because this is the one area where I think the right answer is not merely a matter of opinion but of objective, solid facts, and all the facts are on one side.

Finally, on Guantanamo itself, I don’t see what’s such a big deal about bringing these people into the American judicial system. Why not put them in prisons on American soil? What makes these people so much more dangerous than the murderors and rapists who are already in prison in America? Are they more likely to escape? If so, aren’t they more likely to try and flee the country than to just go out and kill people? We have this caricature in our minds of these prisoners as bloodthirsty animals who will blow things up and kill Americans the second they have the chance, but that’s not really the case. I’d be much more worried about an American murderer or rapist escaping from an American prison because they probably WOULD try to kill or rape again rather than just flee and regroup to plan some new attack.

One thing I’m sure we can agree on, however, is that the far left needs to stop playing the politics of distraction by pointing to Rush Limbaugh or some political cartoon in a newspaper (I can’t believe how much publicity Sharpton generated over that ridiculous chimpanzee). I wish both parties would stop these petty political games and all the bickering and confront the very serious problems this country is having. Maybe if we spent more time actually debating these issues instead of just firing talking points back and forth, we’d be able to form a solid bi-partisan plan to move this country forward, and if we had a plan that everyone was agreeing with instead of half the people opposing anything the president does as a political strategy for their own self-interest, Americans might be a bit more confident and the economy would already start to improve. As it stands, half the country thinks that Obama is turning America into Stalinist Russia, which is not helping anyone but the republicans in far-right districts.

Categories: Political Tags: , , ,

Grünkohlwanderung

March 1st, 2009 No comments

Yesterday was quite a memorable experience. I even had a lot of fun in spite of the fact that I remained significantly depressed the entire time.

Oliver’s girlfriend Lena invited me and Amanda to something a friend of hers from school (she’s earning a master’s degree in some kind of botanical science) had organised called a “Grünkohlwanderung” which consisted of a large group of people walking through the woods and drinking large quantities of alcohol. There was a three hour walk until we came to a restaurant and had a meal of meat, potatoes, and Grünkohl, which is some kind of green vegetable that looks similar to creamed spinach but tastes more like sauerkraut. The whole thing was one of the most authentically German activities I’ve ever been a part of.

The day began at 10:00 when I met up with Amanda, Oliver and Lena, and a bunch of her friends and their friends on the train platform. I was immediately introduced to everyone there, including the girl. You know, the obligatory girl whose insane beauty draws most of my attention throughout the whole day and makes me want to die a violent, horrific death because I can’t have her. There’s always that girl. This one, however, was particularly insanely beautiful, far beyond the normal level. Her name was Inga, and she was there with her boyfriend (naturally) Matthias.

Of course, I wasn’t completely smitten right then at the very beginning. I just silently acknowledged to myself that this girl would probably be the emotional centre of my day but I couldn’t have her so I might as well do my best not to dwell on her. And at first I was quite successful. During the twenty-minute train-ride I sat with Amanda, Oliver and Lena and chatted with them, only occasionally glancing over at the seats on the other side where Inga was sitting with her boyfriend and another guy and girl whose names I don’t remember. The other girl was attractive too, but I’d call her cute rather than beautiful. But she (I’ll refer to her from here on as “the cute one”) made eye contact with me a number of times whenever I glanced in her direction, so I though she might find me attractive too but I didn’t know if the guy she was with was her boyfriend or not, and I still don’t.

During the train ride, Oliver handed out little single-shot-sized bottles of liquor to everyone and I figured what the hell and I took one. This was about 10:15. As good a time as any to start drinking, I suppose. Then when we reached the town of Haste where we’d be walking, we got off the train and stood at the station underneath a little covered area where people can lock up their bikes, and drank a little more while we waited for two more people who were coming to meet us. The weather was perfect—as grey as can be with some light rainfall that came and went the whole morning. When I described the weather as perfect I think they thought I was being sarcastic.

After about ten minutes standing there and two or three shots of various people’s liquor, we headed up a nearby road to the top of a hill and the edge of the woods. There were about 15 people altogether split almost evenly between men and women, as well as one dog who I think belonged to Simone, the girl who organised the thing. The dog was a German shepherd that bore a striking resemblance to Aja, the dog my grandparents had when I was a child and whose death when I was about 10 years old was really painful. It was great to have the dog there, as she was really friendly and played fetch with a little red ball that all of us threw down the path for her at one point or another.

The first twenty-minute stretch of the walk was uphill in the rain, and after a few words to Oliver and Amanda about my apartment search I was silent for most of it. We stopped at the first bench we came to because there was a nice view from there, and everyone took out their liquor and shot-glasses and we all took three or four more. But it was all relatively weak stuff at that point so even on the next leg of the walk I didn’t feel drunk. The rain fell hardest for that leg of the journey, which made it quite lovely. It was a relatively warm day anyway, so the rainfall was just absolutely perfect.

Before we knew it we came to another perfect stopping place, this one at a crossroads deep in the woods with a little wooden structure—three walls made of logs and a bench. Out came the liquor again, and now we all took four or five shots, including some harder stuff like schnapps and vodka. We stayed there for a pretty good length of time. I played with the dog a lot, throwing the ball this way and that. When we were ready to go I was now finally starting to feel tipsy.

Before too long we came to another interesting structure—a stone tower that looked like a medieval watchtower, but with a winding steel staircase inside that led up to a height just slightly lower than the treetops. Not all of us, but a good amount, climbed to the top and drank some more. I was now drunk enough to want a cigarette, and Oliver shared one with me as we talked more. I also talked a little bit in German to some of the other Germans who were there, but not about anything more complicated than the climate in different parts of America.

From the tower it was just a few more minutes to the restaurant, and I felt pretty disappointed when we got there as I was really starting to have fun and I wanted to do a lot more walking. On the other hand, I now had quite an appetite so I didn’t really mind.

Fifteen people and a very long table. One of those people an extremely beautiful girl. Do I want to sit where I can see her and be tortured by her beauty, or a seat from which I won’t be able to see her and thus not have to think about her? Fuck it, I’ll just sit down and let fate decide where to put Inga. And apparently fate thinks that she should sit in the seat directly across from me, right next to her boyfriend, and two seats down from the cute one who is also in a position that makes it extremely easy to look at her.

For the first twenty minutes at least it was easy not to think about the girls. The potatoes and Grünkohl were just so fucking delicious, particularly after a 3-hour walk and about thirteen shots of liquor. Now I was drinking beer, which went down quite smoothly but also probably contributed to the growing depression that would soon rise to its peak.

After the meal I would occasionally chat with Amanda, Oliver and Lena but I think most of the time I was just sitting and staring directly at Inga, who never looked at me so I never had to look away. I’d occasionally shift my glance to Matthias to make sure he wasn’t noticing me staring at his girlfriend, but just like her he didn’t seem to notice at all. She just never made eye contact with me. I sometimes shifted my glance to the cute one, but she always glanced back at me and we made eye contact dozens of times but said nothing to each other. For all I know she thought I was cute but I assumed she was there with her boyfriend so I didn’t think there was any possibility with her either. But having the two of them right there had a really strong emotional effect, with the one girl I could fall in love with but never have, and the other girl I would settle for but could still probably never have. Like…I really want that girl, but a girl will do. But I can’t have a girl either.

Of course she was just so overshadowed by Inga. I spent so much time staring at her face I can’t believe nobody noticed. I was able to study it in detail, familiarising myself with every square centimetre as though it was some kind of art sculpture. This girl’s beauty was seriously beyond description. She could have any man on earth. The body was perfect supermodel proportions but it was her face that really crushed the soul. The lovely reddish-brown hair, the perfect eyebrows, cute little nose, red cheeks against an otherwise pale face, and a little beauty mark above her right lip…those beautiful lips. It wasn’t just that the face was flawless—it was distinctive, with strong features that were nevertheless as aesthetically pleasing as it gets.

She had this habit of taking her hand to her face and running her fingers along her cheeks, under her nose, over her lips…it drove me crazy. I wanted to feel what those fingers were feeling. To press my lips against those rosy cheeks, that cute little ear-lobe, and to take my tongue and lick every individual tooth in her lovely little mouth. I mean, my god. At one point, the phrase “appreciation without desire” popped into my head and I nearly burst out laughing. That might work for some kind of zen-master, but there’s just no way I can simply appreciate beauty for beauty’s sake and not was to get close to it, to touch it, to really appreciate it up-close-and-personal as opposed to just making my eyes and my imagination do all the work.

The dog was under the table the whole time, and I occasionally put my hand down to scratch her face, which I did quite tenderly and lovingly. The dog became the beneficiary of all of my insatiable affection for Inga.

After awhile she started getting affectionate with Matthias, which naturally drove me even crazier. The guy seemed nice enough but also like the most boring, typical, normal-as-normal can be German guy. This girl could have anyone in the world and she chose him. And of course he showed no signs of appreciating it. To him she’s just a girlfriend. A normal accessory to his normal life of normalness. Normal guys have girlfriends, and he was the epitome of normal. Were it not for her obscene beauty, she probably would be too.

I was in a really weird mental spot between that emotional torture and the drunken joking-around of Amanda and Oliver. At one point Amanda came up with this whole absurd fantasy of pitting dogs against waitresses and betting on which of the old people in the restaurant had the ugliest skid marks. Amanda said to me, “See, you’re not so strange. And besides, there’s comfort in strangeness.” I liked that expression, and I asked Oliver how one would say that in German. I forget what it was, but as I said it I glanced at Inga and Matthias, who were looking at us like we were the strangest people on earth, which made me feel distinctively uncomfortable. You’ve gotta love irony.

When we finally left the restaurant and walked back to the train station I was walking with Amanda the whole time, my drunkenness now at the point where I open up and talk about personal shit that I normally keep to myself. To be fair, it was Amanda who brought it up, as I’d mentioned earlier how I’d been really depressed this week and the drinking and walking was exactly what I needed. She just said, “So you were really depressed this week?” and I said yes, and that honestly I still am. I didn’t mention anything about Inga though—that’s something I was quite content to leave purely within the confines of my own mind—but I did mention my strong desire to have a woman. I said I don’t know whether I should just keep doing what I’m doing and dealing with it or if I should go online or something to try to meet singles and date. All she said was that dating is stupid. And when I talked about how I frequently reach a point where life is good but then the need to feel like my life is more meaningful comes around, she started to say something but then just said she didn’t know anything. She just listens. So I guess that was as helpful as it could have been, although at that point a sympathetic ear wasn’t going to be much of a help anyway.

I kept to myself on the train ride back, listening to some music to fit my mood, and when we got back to Hannover we—me, Amanda, Oliver, Lena, and two other random guys—said our goodbyes to the others before the next item on the agenda: drinking at an Irish pub where they’d be showing a big rugby match between Ireland and England. I shook the hands of all the guys including Matthias. That’s actually when I asked him his name because I’d forgotten it and I wanted to know it for the purposes of this journal entry. The cute girl surprised me by giving me a nice hug and saying to me in English, “until next time.” No shit. I hope there is a next time. Inga, however, just politely shook my hand and said goodbye. I don’t think she liked me very much. She probably thought I was too weird.

I won’t go into as much detail about the pub drinking. The rugby match was actually quite exciting, with Ireland eventually winning by one point, which of course made all the Irish people at the pub very happy. I drank about three more beers and shared a few more cigarettes with Oliver and Amanda. Alan came at one point, and one of the random guys left. The other guy was the guy who had been sitting with the cute girl at the restaurant and who I assumed was her boyfriend. I wanted very much to ask Lena about her but I didn’t want to do it in front of that guy in case my assumption had been correct. I kept wishing he would leave, but when he finally did, Lena left as well.

When it was getting late, Oliver asked me if I wanted to head back to my place to end the day with a smoke. But just as we were saying goodbye, Lena came back for some reason so he decided to just go home with her. While we were walking down the street I did ask Lena what her friend’s name was but she must not have heard me right because she said a guy’s name but before I could follow up we reached the point where we had to take different turns to get home, and I gave them hugs goodbye and stumbled back to my place. When I got inside I promptly collapsed on the floor and started crying, or doing something like crying but without tears or anything. I then smoked and listened to the same depressing song five or six times in a row until I was about ready to pass out.

And that’s what happened yesterday. It was a worthwhile experience in every possible sense, and I had a lot of fun. But apparently having a fun, worthwhile experience is not incompatible with feeling soul-crushingly depressed. Honestly, I do enjoy my life. I have a lot of fun and a lot of interesting experiences, but there’s always this gaping hole where physical affection should be, and sometimes the desire for that is so strong that nothing else matters. I would trade everything to have what Matthias has, an insanely beautiful girlfriend to kiss and caress, and failing that I would still be happy with any cute girl at all. Just a smooth female body to lie against mine at night would be so unbelievably wonderful, but it’s just not happening and it really doesn’t seem like it ever will.

All of which leads me right back to where I always end up: there is no hope. A life without love is not worth living. And the best thing about a loveless life is death.