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Two Days in One

September 30th, 2010 No comments

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Flying overnight from the U.S. to Europe is both one of my favorite and least favorite things to do. Because I can never get to sleep on a plane, the flight just takes me from one part of the day to the next, though the second part is a completely different day. Then you have to make it through the rest of that day without going to sleep, or your sleep-schedule is going to be messed up for days. So by the end of the second day you still remember the things that happened in the first as though it were the same day. It can be pretty tough on you both mentally and physically, but there’s something very fun about it too.

The beginning of the first day was about as mundane as it gets, though enjoyable. My mother took me to Wal-Mart to buy a bunch of things before I left, a generous offer I was glad to take her up on. We then had lunch at a nearby diner before returning home so I could finish packing and we’d head to the airport.

I said goodbye to that house once again, and we drove about half-way to New York to meet my dad who was coming from work. We drove the rest of the way to JFK, which meant once again crossing the Verrazano Bridge onto Long Island, and I commented that I’ve never crossed that bridge so often within one short period.

My parents waited on line with me as I checked in, then bid me farewell before I got in line for security. The rest of the airport experience was about as typical as it gets, waiting around until boarding and then waiting around until take-off.

The flight itself was similarly unremarkable, the only annoyance being a group of three German girls sitting next to me who somehow never ran out of things to yap about through the entire 7-hour flight. Even when they finally turned down the cabin lights so people could get some shut-eye, the girls kept yapping (I’m pretty sure they were the only people talking on the whole plane) for nearly an hour.

At some point it became Friday, September 24, 2010. By the time the girls finally shut up and I was just about ready to successfully pass out for the first time ever on an airplane, the cabin lights came on again and we were all told to wake up because they were serving breakfast.

They’d just served dinner about an hour and a half beforehand, because some turbulence had forced them to delay the meal (which also shortened the lights-out time). I wasn’t even hungry enough to eat again, and I was surprised that everyone else did. I tried to relax a little more before the landing but before I knew it we were descending and my ears were in horrible pain. When we landed, I managed to pop my left ear but the right ear remained clogged for the rest of the day and the days that followed.

Going through customs was quick and painless. Upon taking my American passport, the guy asked me how long my visit would be. I said I live here and work here, which was good enough for him and he let me through. No one checked my luggage either.

Once I got my luggage I hopped on the SkyTrain over to the train station and boarded the next ICE train which stopped in Hannover. I was almost able to fall asleep on the two-and-a-half hour train ride, but not quite. We got to Hannover at about 11:30 and I took a cab back to my flat, experiencing the very weird feeling of looking at the city as my true home. For the rest of the day, I’d be comparing it to the first day I arrived in Hannover when everything had been new and alien and I felt so strange and out of place. This was so much different—now I know the city as intimately as I know the back-roads I used to drive on all the time to deliver pizza.

When I got home I forced a quick journal entry out, then began the annoying-but-necessary process of going shopping. Looking back on my first day in Hannover, when I just stopped at a corner shop and picked up about €5 worth of groceries. Now I knew exactly where to shop and I bought about €50. I also stopped at the electronics store Conrad to buy another plug-adapter for the second lap-top I brought back from America, an old one that I figured I could still make good use of.

I was very tired and cranky by the time I finished the shopping, but at least now I could just enjoy the rest of the day. I did that and got on my bike to ride around. It was cold and cloudy, quite the juxtaposition from warm and sunny New York but appropriate enough for Germany. My entire disposition changed and that bike-ride became the most enjoyable experience of the day by far.

Again I couldn’t help but think back to that first day in Hannover when I could barely get from my flat to downtown, but now I’m so familiar with the city that I can improvise my way around all these different bike-paths and always know exactly where I am. I also made sure I rode across a little pedestrian-bridge I’m kind of fond of (for some reason I get sentimentally attached to bridges quite easily) and made sure to appreciate the coolness of the fact that I was riding across this little bridge on the same “day” (in my mind at least) that I’d driven across the Verrazano.

The most profound thought that occurred to me was that during my time in America nearly every experience was the result of other people’s decisions—where they ended up living, when they had time to see me, etc.—but in Germany nearly every aspect of my life is the result of my own decisions—from the furniture in my flat to the areas I like to ride my bike to simply the fact that I decided to come to Hannover in the first place. In America I exist in a world constructed by others. In Hannover, I’m in my own domain.

In a funny little parallel to my first day in Hannover two years ago, the plug adapter I bought for the lap-top apparently didn’t work for the 3-prong type of plug this lap-top needed. So just like the first day when I kept going back and forth between my apartment and Conrad to get all the electronic stuff sorted out, I rode back to Conrad again to pick up the right kind of adapter.

It wasn’t really until evening when I settled in to watch my downloaded entertainment from the news podcasts to the TV shows that things really started to feel like they were back to normal. I made it all the way to 9:00 before turning in, having only a few moments to reflect on what a long and varied two-days-in-one it had been, and how odd a feeling it was to have left my old home to return to my new home to discover that the new one actually feels more like “home”.

It’s been almost a week since the flight now, and it’s taken about as long to get back to the same basic head-space I was in before leaving. Things felt very different during that whole first weekend and even the first couple of days of work, but now that my first week back is almost over it’s starting to feel like it did before I left.

Looking back on those three weeks, I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever had as much of a learning experience jam-packed into such a small period of time as that. Seeing America through whole new eyes and reflecting on myself and how I’ve changed throughout the last two years—the differences have never been more striking. I could see them when I was in America but now that some time has passed it’s even easier to discern exactly what’s changed and what’s stayed the same.

Now I’m even more motivated to go to Japan, as living there for a couple of years will almost definitely be an even greater learning experience. I’m just not very eager to leave this home to start a new one.

Driving Down Memory Highway

September 29th, 2010 No comments

I was just going to finish the personal stories today, but thanks to “popular demand” I decided to write the political entry that’s been bouncing around my head for a few weeks, which you can find below. All that remains to be described from my trip back to America is this day and my return, which I’ll write about tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I woke up on the morning of the 21st to have breakfast with Lance and his kids and say goodbye to them as they ran to catch the school bus in the morning. It was sad to think I won’t see Beau or Margot again until they’re significantly older, but at least I got a glimpse of them at their current ages.

Lance hung around for a bit longer before he went to work, getting into a bit of a political discussion with me because he doesn’t follow the news as closely as I do and was interested in my take on Obama and other issues, which I’m always more than happy to give.

When he left I got myself ready and took off as well on what would be my final long-distance drive of the trip. But before heading back to New Jersey there was one thing I knew I had to do.

Glen Cove is only a few minutes away from Huntington, where the house that my grandparents lived in for 30 years is still standing and which I felt compelled to see again for the first time since they moved out of it 14 years ago. It was the house my mother grew up in, and the house where I spent the first five years of my life. Most of my memories of that house are from visiting my grandparents there after moving away, but it had a significant enough impression on my mind that to this day I still have dreams about being back there.

Thanks to the miracle of GPS tracking, I didn’t have to know anything about how to get there. I didn’t even need the exact house number. I just punched in “Sixpence Court” with a random number—4—and let the little machine work its magic. Before I knew it I was exiting the Grand Central Parkway at the exit my mother always used to take when we went to visit my grandparents, and driving along the strangely familiar Round Swamp Road.

My heart was pounding heavily when I actually pulled into the court, and I drove up and parked the car at the foot of the old driveway. I sat there in the car for a minute just staring at the place and comparing it to the way it was in my memory. The big tree that was once on the front lawn was missing, but other than that it looked exactly the same.

I got out of the car and walked up the driveway, peeking through the fence at the small area of backyard I could see. So many memories of playing in that yard as a little child. It was helpful to have seen 7-year-old Margot so soon before, as it helped me to remember a bit about what I was like at that age, an age when I was still coming to that backyard to play.

Turning around and looking back down the driveway was the strangest part, as this was the more familiar perspective. I spent more time looking from the house than at the house. I remembered playing with the garden hose out on that driveway, riding my bike around the court, playing with Kelly next door—all these things. Most profoundly I still remember playing with my biological father out on that driveway back before he left and never returned, while my mother sat on the stoop and watched us. My first childhood impression of man-woman relationships: the man keeping his distance from the woman who didn’t want to speak to him. I’ve been recreating that scenario in my own “love-life” ever since, and now I was once again standing in the place where it all began.

When I got back in the car I noticed something on the floor near the pedals—a card that the Iranians I’d met in Ichenheim had given me earlier this year and which I’d forgotten all about. It says, “There is a sole way in the world and it is nothing but rightness.” Those people had been so spiritual and my meeting them had felt like such a significant event that the fact this card was suddenly before me at this significant moment of my life gave me a chill. Where had I even been keeping that card? My wallet? My back-pack? How is it that it had fallen out of wherever it was and ended up right before my eyes at this particular moment? What strange forces were at work here? Was it the same force behind the black bird that had been guiding the Iranians through their bicycle tour? What did it mean?

Accepting this as counter-evidence to metaphysical materialism and resolving to try harder to translate the letter I received in the mail several months ago written completely in Arabic and which I assumed is from them (does anyone reading this speak Farsi?), I started up the car and drove away, not sure I’ll ever see that house again.

Leaving Long Island was easy enough, and I was half-way through Staten Island when it occurred to me that I also had plenty of time to visit another house I used to live in, a condo in Edison, New Jersey where I’d lived during my five years of elementary school. I debated back and forth whether to bother going there for a few minutes, but ultimately decided that there would never be a more appropriate time so I punched the address into the GPS and let it take me there.

Before I knew it I was pulling into the Westgate Drive condominium, and into Colgate Court where the condo we used to live in was right at the corner and looking the same ugly shade of brown it had all those years ago. Again I parked the car and got out to have a look around, again finding all kinds of random little childhood memories popping back into my head as I did. I even walked around to the field out behind the condo complex where there was a tiny little patch of woods I used to play in all the time. It was still there, and every tree and boulder was right where I remembered it. Thinking about the person I was the last time I was out in that little patch of woods—all the imagination games I used to play and how unthinkable it was for me to play those kinds of games with my current fully-developed mind—I don’t think I’ve ever felt the distinct feeling of having grown up any more than I did at that moment. They say “you can never go back” and that felt more true at that moment than ever before. These were the woods I used to play in as a kid. Now I’m an adult, and as young as I still feel it’s clear that those childhood days are over. The places still exist. The memories are still clear. But there’s no going back.

I got back in the car and made a quick drive to the condominium club house with its playground and swimming pool, now empty in the middle of a weekday. I got out and peered through the fence at the playground, which apparently hasn’t changed at all in over ten years, and the pool which also looks exactly the same. Tiny little memories of swimming in that pool and the imagination games I used to play there came flooding back to me, as weird a sensation as you can imagine.

Some worker in a truck pulled up while I was standing there, and not wanting an audience for my little memory-trip I got back in the car and drove the perimeter of the entire condominium, remembering each part of it from the thousands of bike rides I took there as a kid. It’s amazing how little has changed.

There was one more thing I had to do. Martin Luther King Elementary school, where I spent grades 1 through 5, was just a few minutes away from the condominium. I drove there and parked my car, then got out and walked around. I was a little paranoid because there was a gym class on the field and I was walking right outside of full classrooms where I could actually hear the teachers giving their lessons through the windows. I’m sure some people must have spotted me—this strange Jesus-looking guy just walking by the window—but nobody stopped me. I just walked the perimeter of the school, letting those memories flood back but feeling profoundly sad at how much here had changed. Those playgrounds where I learned all my most important lessons about social interaction (mostly what not to do) had been completely altered. The black-tops where I’d spent many-a-recess dominating the four-squares court (because I’d brought the ball) were now parking lots. There might have been an additional wing or two on the building. But the core part was still there, and before I got back in the car I walked right up and looked through the door at those hallways, the same walls and floors but much, much smaller than in my mind.

Having had enough craziness for one day, I just drove straight back home and took a nap. Later, my brother came home from school and I decided to go down and hang out with him and his high school friends, as I hadn’t really hung out with my brother outside of my parents’ company since I’d been home. That was nice—it’s slightly easier to relate to him than it was the last time I was around two years ago, but we’re still very different people in most respects.

When it was approaching rush hour I took the rental car back to the agency, which also happens to be right next to the Domino’s Pizza where I used to work. Figuring that one more blast-from-the-past wouldn’t hurt, I went inside while I waited for the Enterprise worker to be ready to drive me back home, and was pleasantly surprised to find the manager Ted and oldest driver Adriano there to greet me. Ted recognized me right away, and we had a nice pleasant little chat while I waited. He offered me some free food, but I declined the offer. Everything there looked exactly the same, but that was to be expected as it’s only been two years since I last worked there. Adriano was the only employee still working there though.

When I got home I called my mom to find out what was going on for dinner, and when she said she had nothing planned I decided to call Domino’s and take them up on their food offer. Adriano took my call and he apparently made the food and brought it to me myself, as I promised a really good tip in exchange for the discount and he came and talked to me for a little bit longer about my job and living in Germany and everything.

That night I watched TV with my brother and dad until I could take no more commercials and went to bed. It was one of those nights when you’re going to sleep that you look back on all the things you’d done that day and wonder how it was all the same day. Two of the houses I grew up in, my elementary school, hanging out with my brother, going back to the place I used to work. And that morning I’d been eating cereal with a 7-year-old cousin. Time goes by so fast, but it’s amazing what you can manage to do with it. It’s amazing how much you can fit into a single day.

How Liberals Can Send the Right Message this Election

September 29th, 2010 No comments

It seems that we’re stuck in a lose-lose situation. For most of us, voting for our Democratic Party representative in the upcoming mid-term elections will send the wrong message to Washington—that we approve of the pathetic, wishy-washy, cowardly way in which the Democrats of the 111th Congress have been governing. Constantly incorporating Republican proposals into their legislation in spite of their clear electoral mandate to change course, watering-down and weakening bill after bill to make them more acceptable to powerful special interests, refusing to stand up and make the case for things like a public health insurance option and a cap on carbon emissions, and most recently being too intimidated by the prospect of negative campaign ads that they won’t even vote on repealing the Bush tax-cuts for the wealthiest 2% until after the election. The strategy has been to move as far to the right as possible to ward off attacks from a right-wing media machine that is attacking them for being too liberal anyway. This is not the kind of government we voted for in 2006 and 2008, and the last thing we want to do is put our stamp of approval on it once again in 2010.

But what choice do we have? We certainly can’t vote for Republicans, as what they’re proposing will have us crashing back to disastrous economic conditions even faster than Democratic passivity. While Democrats don’t want to move forward quickly enough, Republicans want to actively move in the opposite direction, making the deficit-exploding Bush tax cuts permanent and repealing the health care reform legislation that in spite of its major shortcomings could still do a lot of good for a lot of people. As far as I can tell, these are their only two major policy ideas: tax-cuts for the rich and repealing health care reform. Anyone who votes for that thinking it will solve everything has been watching too much Fox News.

Of course most voters don’t know anything about economic policy, so they’re just going to go and vote against the Democrats because the Democrats are in charge and the economy still sucks. Never mind that the Republicans would make it worse—they show up at the polls every two years and launch their protest vote and that’s as far as their thinking goes. They don’t read or watch the news enough to understand just how badly they’re shooting themselves in their own financial foot.

That leaves liberals with the distasteful obligation of voting for Democrats to cancel out these understandable but misguided protest votes, and this is what the Democratic Party is counting on. No matter how poor a job they’ve done at governing these last 2-4 years, they know that their base knows the alternative is far worse. They’ve got us by the balls and we can either hold our collective noses and vote for them, or stay home and let fate plunge this country even deeper into the hole that uninformed voters have been allowing it to sink into for decades.

But there is an alternative, and I hope you’ll consider taking it. The key is to throw your support not behind the Democratic Party in general, but behind specific Democrats who deserve our support.

Russ Feingold is a senator from Wisconsin who has been right about nearly everything in his entire career, particularly when it comes to the economy. During the deregulation fervor of the Clinton years, he stood up and opposed the changes that would allow Wall Street to gamble with our money, which he warned would lead to a terrible financial crisis (and we all know how that story ended). This past year when Obama and the Democrats passed their Financial Reform-in-name-only legislation, Russ Feingold was the guy who had the balls to stand up and say no, that he could not in good conscience vote for a bill that wouldn’t prevent another financial crisis—which it won’t. Wall Street is still up to the same old dirty tricks, and when the next bubble bursts it will be Feingold alone among Senate Democrats who can say “I told you so.”

Feingold is currently in a bloody battle to keep his Wisconsin Senate seat, and the last I heard he was down by nearly 10 points. If he loses, the message the Washington establishment will take—the message they’re hoping to take—is that when Democrats are too far to the left, they lose elections. As a result, the rest of the cowardly Democrats who run to the right at the first sign of trouble will run even further to the right and become even more eager to please the Wall Street masters.

If you live in Wisconsin, for God’s sake get out and vote in November. You actually have the opportunity to send the right kind of message this election season—that liberals want a fighter who will fight for liberal causes, not just a bunch of pathetic cowards who are afraid of being labeled “anti-business”. If you don’t live in Wisconsin, you can still send a message by donating to Russ Feingold’s campaign, which you can do by following this link.

The other Democrat who deserves our support this election is Alan Grayson, whom just about everyone knows. Grayson is a convenient target for those on the right because he actually stands up and says controversial things like “The Republican health care plan is ‘Don’t get sick. And if you do, die quickly.’” They point to him and say he’s a crazy wacko liberal, the Democratic equivalent of a Michele Bachmann. Even some liberals have bought into this, and they’ll condemn him for going too far to the left just to make themselves look more moderate and say “at least I’m condemning extremism on both sides.”

This is a real shame, because the equivalence is a false one. Grayson may push some buttons from time to time but his attacks are always rooted in facts and reality. This is the kind of Democrat that more Democrats should be like—the kind who are not afraid to stand up and forcefully make the case for liberal principles. Most Democrats are so afraid of conflict that they spend 99% of their time bending over backwards to appear “reasonable” and willing to compromise. We need more like Grayson who aren’t afraid of a little controversy, of ruffling a few conservative feathers, of actually standing up and defending the things they supposedly believe in instead of tripping all over themselves to show that they don’t believe these things too strongly.

Grayson also faces a tough re-election campaign, and while most of us don’t live in his district and can’t therefore express our approval, we can still go to his website and toss a few bucks his way. If he wins re-election, the rest of the Democratic Party might wake up and say “Gee willikers! Apparently you can be a strong advocate for liberal principles and still win an election!” If he loses, the conventional wisdom that liberals have to hide their true beliefs and constantly pander to conservatives will be confirmed, and that will be disastrous.

There are several possible outcomes to the 2010 elections, and most of them are dismal. The most likely outcomes involve massive Republican gains in both chambers of Congress, which the Washington media will interpret as a message from the American people that they don’t want Change and would rather go back to the way things were under Bush. The other possible outcomes involve Democrats maintaining their majorities, which the Washington media will interpret as a message from the American people that they like centrist, middle-of-the-road compromise in which the government splits the difference between the interests of the wealthy and the interests of average Americans (and by “splitting the difference” we of course mean giving far more consideration to the wealthy).

But what will really matter is how things go in these tight races in which real liberals are fighting for their political lives. If people like Feingold and Grayson lose, the message will be that moving to the left is political suicide, and the conventional wisdom that has kept the Democratic Party locked in a rightward drift all these years will be confirmed. But if disappointed and disaffected liberals stand up this election and get behind candidates like Feingold and Grayson and these candidates win, then it won’t matter as much what happens in the rest of the country. We’ll have shown that when a politician is willing to fight for us, we will fight for them.

The best possible message we could send to the establishment would come in the form of corporate-friendly Democrats getting booted out of office while genuinely progressive Democrats win decisive victories. That will show everyone in the media, the government, and most importantly the White House, that the key to political victory is not to run from the left but to embrace it—to fight for real change and not be afraid of losing the support of the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations because they’ll have the people on their side.

Support Russ Feingold. Support Alan Grayson. Make the message of the 2010 elections the one we should be sending: “If you’ve got our back, we’ve got yours.”

Goodbye, New York

September 28th, 2010 No comments

Monday, September 20, 2010

When Mike got up early Monday morning, I woke up too in order to wish him farewell, as I didn’t think I’d be seeing him again. He’d spent the previous day finishing up his upgrades to my lap-top, replacing Windows XP with the far-superior Windows 7, and he said that to really put the finishing touches on the upgrade I should buy a couple of 2 GB memory cards that he showed me on the Best Buy website. After I woke up I found an e-mail from him saying that if I picked up the cards in the city and brought them to his office at Rockefeller Center, he would install them for me.

The only thing I had planned for the day was to visit my Uncle Lance and his kids out in Glen Cove, Long Island that evening, so I had most of the day free and open. I was supposed to meet Lance when he got back home at 6:00, so I knew I’d have to either arrive super-early or sit in some rush-hour traffic, and figured that if I left by 4:00 and resigned myself to hitting the traffic, two hours should be enough time.

That allowed me to venture back into Manhattan one last time, this time on my own. Mike had given me instructions on how to get in the easiest way—just taking the R train straight to Broadway, where I could stop at Kristin’s sandwich shop for lunch. Kristin, once [not-so] affectionately known as “Little Cracky” (for reasons I’ll leave up to your imagination) has really turned her life around in the past few years and is now managing a really successful sandwich place called “Wichcraft” (get it—sand “wich”?) in Manhattan, and I figured I might as well check it out.

After just a little bit of trouble I found the place and Kristin told her underlings to hook me up with some food while she remained busy doing what she had to do to keep the place running. I didn’t get to chat with her while I ate, but I did get to eat the most excellent tuna sandwich I’ve ever had, and thanks to my ‘in’ with the manager I got the $8 sandwich completely free. When I was done I bid her a fond farewell, saying I hoped I’d see her again sooner than two years from now, and I firmly meant it. I’d like to go back to America again as early as next year if I can somehow manage that, though it depends on so many factors. But yeah, I definitely want another one of those bangin’ sandwiches.

Now I had to get down to business, first to find the Best Buy and then Mike’s building at Rockefeller. Of course I always end up going the wrong direction when I get out of the subway, so I lost some time that way, and I was already running out of time before my 4:00 goal of leaving Brooklyn when I finally found the store. To make matters worse, the Best Buy wasn’t selling the nice, relatively inexpensive combination-package of memory cards Mike had found online but I had to buy them individually for what would amount to more than twice the price I’d been expecting. They said I could try another store a few blocks away, but by then I was really running out of time and I just wanted to get it over with. Of course I knew I could just forego the whole memory-upgrade process for the time being and maybe figure out how to do it in Germany, but I just wanted the whole thing to be finished. So I paid through the teeth for the cards, accepting what I like to think of as the ‘git ‘er done’ fee (in life you frequently have to pay a lot more if you don’t want to wait for something), and headed up towards Rockefeller Center.

Finding Mike’s building was also a huge bitch, as it wasn’t where I thought it would be and I ended up stumbling around for a good twenty minutes trying to figure out where we’d been on Saturday. It looked a lot different during the week when everything was in business, and I was hoping to see some of my favorite NBC celebrities walking around but I had no such luck. (Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of the days that Cenk Uygur would be guest-hosting at MSNBC, as if I’d seen him I would have pounced on him and demanded to know why he hasn’t answered any of my e-mails).

But I did find the building and told the doorman I was here to see Mike H up at Myd-Marketing (that felt kind of badass) and then I headed upstairs and strolled right into the Wall Street trading firm right when they were in the middle of their dirty evil business, which felt super-mega-badass. The French guys who own the company shot me and my long hair a dirty look when I came inside, but I just said “I’m here to see Mike” and they let me on through.

Mike greeted me, apparently not too busy at that particular time, and tore open my computer to get those new cards installed, while I looked around and appreciated the fact that I was now in the lion’s den with the lions (even if most of these particular lions were French). Every work-station with its multiple monitors was occupied, CNBC was running on the big screen, and more money than I make in a year was being traded back-and-forth as I sat there, trying to resist the urge to start shouting doomsday scenarios about the inevitable next financial crisis that’s going to hit sometime soon.

When the installation was complete, Mike gave me instructions for the fastest way back to Brooklyn and he walked me out of the building and sent me on my merry way. I made it back to his apartment (in his awesomeness, he’d let me keep a set of keys for the next time I’m around) and got the rest of my stuff, finally getting back to my car and on the road at about 4:15. Not too bad in the timing department.

I definitely hit the traffic on the Belt parkway and later the Long Island Expressway, but somehow I got to Lance’s house just 10 minutes after the planned 6:00 arrival time, and just minutes after he and the kids had gotten home as well.

I spent the evening with Lance and two of his kids, as his wife Sue and oldest son Max were away that week on some kind of mountain-climbing adventure. His kids are all in this special school with its own educational philosophy, developed by Rudolf Steiner (the brain behind Theosophy, one of my favorite metaphysical belief-systems), so they do all kinds of cool trips like that. The focus is much more on learning through experience than it is in the rest of academia. Whether or not having such a radically different educational experience than their peers will be a disadvantage for them later in life is yet to be seen, but I hope not. I’d rather the rest of the educational system become more like the one he’s got his kids in.

Lance is another deep-thinker, so I always love talking to him because I never have to worry about staying on the same page. As his second-oldest son Beau cooked us up a nice dinner of angel-hair pasta and tomato-sauce (pretty damn good for a 12-year-old) we chatted about my experience living in Germany and how different America looks to me now that I’ve been gone for so long.

After dinner we were summoned outside by his daughter Margot, now age 7, who wanted us to see the full moon. The moon wasn’t quite full but that didn’t matter. She was a bit nervous around me but I started helping her play with her paper airplane while Lance went inside and before I knew it I was sitting under a tree with her in the twilight and having a very long and meandering discussion about everything from fairies to stars to bugs and spiders to whatever else popped into her 7-year-old mind while we were talking.

I made sure to really appreciate the fact that I was having that conversation, as it’s not at all often that I get to speak with young kids for any length of time. I certainly can’t speak to German 7-year-olds because unless they’ve got an English-speaking parent none of them have started learning English yet. But Margot is super-adorable and about as sweet as you can imagine, so it was quite a pleasure talking to her. The last time I saw her she was only 4 years old, so she didn’t remember me but she did believe me when I told her that I’d met her before.

I also appreciated how easy it was to talk to her, as my job as a language teacher is to keep conversations going which can often be rather difficult, but Margot just never ran out of things to say. She just went on and on about this and that and some other completely random thing. “I like it when bugs fly by my ear. It feels kind of weird.” You know, I never thought of it that way. Or maybe I did but just forgot…

I spent a really pleasant, very out-of-the-ordinary evening with Lance and his kids until he put them to bed and the two of us stayed up talking until about midnight. I told him about Revolution Earth, an idea he really liked, and he told me all the latest news about his business, Braun Brush (check it out if you need any fancy brushes) and his invention brush-tiles which are apparently still pretty popular among interior decorators. I hadn’t spoken to him in two and a half years but it felt like we’d picked up right where we left off and we’ll do the same the next time I get around to seeing him.

I told him to wake me up in the morning before the kids left, because I knew it might be a few more years before I’d see them again and I wanted to make it a bit more likely that Margot will remember me next time, when she’ll probably be 9 or 10 and a completely different person. Beau already remembers me because I saw him a lot more often when he was younger, and he’s definitely a great kid. Sue and Lance may be raising their kids in a somewhat outside-the-box kind of fashion, but so far it seems to be working. 7-year-old girls can often be awful little brats, but Margot is the farthest thing from that (at least from what I was able to see) and Beau is just an incredibly nice young boy.

It almost makes me want kids of my own…but not quite.

Tune in tomorrow for the not-so-thrilling-but-still-hopefully-somewhat-interesting conclusion of my American adventure stories.

American Football!!!

September 28th, 2010 No comments

There are just a couple of events left to describe from my trip, and I’m not sure how into detail I’m going to get for either of them. Once I’m finished with these and write a more detailed account of the day of my return, I’ll be back up-to-speed and there probably won’t be any more significant personal events in my life for many many months. Then it’s back to politics, and you can be sure I’ve got plenty to say. But for now, let’s stay focused on the more trivial things in life.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I was a bit worried about the potential hangover I might have on Sunday morning after the big Autumn Lane Reunion, but apparently I behaved myself enough to avoid feeling too terrible—just a mild headache. I knew that I’d be meeting my dad and a couple of his friends at the Meadowlands at 1:00 where I would go right back to beer-drinking, so I’d made sure to pace myself the night before.

I left Mike’s apartment at 11:30, giving him a “Jets Jets Jets” cheer just before I left, then letting him get back to sleep. When I punched the Meadowlands into the GPS I’d been using to get around, it said it would only be a 40 minute drive, so I still had some time to kill. I walked down the pier and admired the view of Manhattan from Bay Ridge for a little while, then headed back to the car and drove to the Meadowlands, still arriving about 15 minutes early.

My dad met me at the parking lot of the nearby Sheraton, and we sat there for awhile waiting for his friend John, whom I haven’t seen since the sailing trip over two years ago, and his girlfriend whose name escapes me so I’ll just call her Linda. I think it was Linda.

I started with a soda but before I knew it I was opening up a beer and diving right back into the drinking, which is pretty much obligatory when it comes to going to a football game. My dad has had season tickets to the Jets for about my entire life, so going to the game with him a couple of Sundays a year was a dearly missed tradition and now that the stadium has changed and it’s gotten a lot more expensive, he’s thinking of giving up the tickets which meant this could easily be the last time I’d ever get to go.

When John arrived we packed everything into his car and drove to the actual stadium parking lot for some tail-gaiting. I drank a few more beers and barely got more than a slight buzz, but my bladder filled up quickly enough and I soon had to venture out to find a port-o-potty. When I got to an area with four of them, there was a line about twenty people long, all buzzed from alcohol and bitching with each other over having to wait in line. I made good friends with the black guy behind me and the attractive young lady in front of me, pleased by the ease with which I was able to crack jokes and communicate with these people. Talking to total strangers in Germany is a much different ball-game, as I’m usually trying to stick to the most simple language I possibly can so as not to have to reveal that I’m a foreigner.

Of course my new buddies didn’t wait around by the port-o-potties after pissing to chat some more, so our friendship had to end once each of us finally got our chance to pee. Sad day.

The tail-gating was as fun as I always remembered, with plenty of delicious food and beer as delicious as you could expect in America (plus my dad had brought some imported German hefeweizen, not necessary but a nice gesture). Having lived abroad for two years I had plenty enough to say to John and Linda, who are both extraordinarily nice people.

Soon enough it was time to head to the stadium, which was a really long walk from where we were but the belligerent Jets fans all around us made it interesting. Chants of “J E T S Jets Jets Jets” erupted about every fifteen seconds, as well as some colorful abuse hurled at the Patriot’s quarterback Tom Brady (who apparently—according to some Jets fans—sucks).

Getting into the new stadium was a huge bitch as compared to the old stadium, and all I heard from people all around me was what a huge fucking waste of money the new stadium was. Everybody hated it. The escalators were a massive clusterfuck to get to the first level, and once you did you couldn’t just walk across to the next escalator but you actually had to go inside and walk around to reach the next one. The bathrooms were a similar situation, and during the game people were always complaining that there wasn’t a single screen for those trying to piss to be able to see what was happening outside. “A billion and a half dollars and they couldn’t afford to put a fucking screen in here?” I heard several times, each person probably thinking they were the first to express that thought.

My dad used to have great seats only 6 rows back and near the center of the field, but he didn’t want to pay the fifteen thousand dollars for the seat license when they changed the stadium and now he’s up on the top level on the end-zone line, so the perspective is much different. It wasn’t too bad though, and he’d brought some binoculars which were fun to play with throughout the game (particularly when it came to watching the cheer-leaders). But no matter how far away you are, there’s nothing like being at an actual football game.

I can’t help it—that’s my sport, dog. I explained this in an earlier entry, but I just think it’s one of the most entertaining, exciting games ever invented by human beings. Every single play can completely change the momentum of the game. There may not be action going on all the time, but in between plays you get to think about strategy—what they’ve been doing wrong and what you hope they’ll do this time.

I’m not sure about fans of other teams, but Jets fans are particularly great because they’re so accustomed to losing that they always expect the worst. They cheer like crazy whenever something good happens like the Jets get the ball with really good field position, but before you know it they’ll be saying “So let’s see how they manage to screw this up.” At one point the Jets went for a two-point conversion instead of kicking the field goal, and the pretty-much unanimous consent around me was that this was the dumbest move in the history of football—but they pulled it off and got the points and everyone cheered like crazy and forgot all about it.

The Jets played terribly in the first quarter but somehow managed to turn around and play a pretty good game for the rest of the time, ultimately surprising everyone by actually winning. Of course the best part of the Jets game is after they get a touch-down, when everybody looks to that one guy in the fireman hat who leads the entire stadium in the chant of “J E T S Jets Jets Jets!” There’s just something really cool about one guy—just one random fan—getting an entire stadium of thousands of people to get really quiet for a second and then shout the same thing in unison.

Naturally everyone was in a good mood (except the Patriots fans) when the game was over, but there was less cheering on the way out of the stadium than on the way in. Not hard to imagine why—on the way in everyone’s nice and buzzed from the many beers they’d just been pounding before going into the stadium. On the way out the buzz has mostly worn off because almost nobody is going to buy more than one $8.50 beer in the actual stadium. We only drank one the whole time, and I was just almost completely sober when we left.

The traffic getting out of the stadium is awful, so we waited around in the parking lot until things were relatively clear. We drove back to the Sheraton where John and Linda decided to wait a little longer for the highways to clear, but I figured I’d just head back to Brooklyn and deal with whatever traffic I encountered. I found that the turnpike was pretty clear but I ran into a massive clusterfuck at the toll-booths before the Goethals Bridge, where apparently I ran into the crowd returning from the Jersey Shore at the end of the weekend.

I got back to Brooklyn at a reasonable enough hour, but I knew parking was probably going to be at its most difficult. I drove around for a good twenty minutes looking for a spot, attempting a couple of times to parallel park in spaces that I then discovered were just a bit too small to fit in, until I suddenly spotted someone pulling out on the road up ahead of me and tried not to get too excited as I pulled up and discovered that yes, this was a legitimate parking spot, just far enough from the fire hydrant to be legal. There’s something really awesome about finding a parking spot in Brooklyn—it’s like you just won a video game.

Back at Mike’s apartment I watched the rest of the Giants game as they got their asses handed to them, and we both went to bed around midnight because I was tired as hell and he had to work the next day. It had been a really great day. I can’t say I learned much—just rediscovered things about American culture I’d already known—but it was definitely a worthwhile experience. I may be becoming more Europeanized by the day, but one prejudice I’ll never lose is that football is way better than soccer.

Autumn Lane Reunion

September 27th, 2010 No comments

I’ve written this at a time at which I’m in no mood to write. I just feel like I have to get that day of my life documented and move on. Were I in the right frame of mind, I could have made this something really entertaining and insightful, but not right now. I might return to it one day soon and offer a much better version that isn’t so focused on my bare-bones perceptions of the day. If any of the people involved were to offer some pictures, that could really open up some new dimensions. But for now:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

When I woke up on the morning of the 19th, I had no idea if the reunion of my college friends who lived at Autumn Lane would even be happening. I’d been trying to put something together on Facebook for weeks, but nobody had given me a solid confirmation that they were coming and nobody had even decided on a location to meet. So I just went online and said that if anyone wanted to come to the reunion, they just needed to get to NYC and call me.

Two of my former room-mates, Luke and Marc (a.k.a. Martacomus), were able to come nice and early, and they met up with Mike and me at his place in Brooklyn. It was strange but very cool to see them again, and before long it felt like no time had passed at all, as the conversation took the same kinds of turns it always used to (e.g. “bitches are crazy”).

Because Mike was helping me upgrade my computer, he needed to swing by his office in Manhattan to pick up a CD, which worked out because we wanted to party in Manhattan anyway. By that time I’d heard from Connie, another Autumn-laner whom I’d met earlier in the year when she travelled on business to Antwerp, who said that she and fellow Autumn-laner Kim (a.k.a. Kimbo) would be meeting up at Penn Station around 8:00.

Still a long way off, we headed to Manhattan to check out the office where Mike (a.k.a Craig) works. He works for a small trading company in a building at Rockefeller Center, so I personally found it very cool to get a glimpse inside the lion’s den. This was where those Wall Street bastards do their business. I was right there in one of those rooms, nothing but electronic equipment and at least three computer monitors at every work-station, which apparently people are only allowed to leave a specific number of times each day and only for a limited time.

To make matters cooler, we’d bought some beer and brought it up with us, so I got to drink (and smoke) at the Wall Street trading firm as well. We hung out there for awhile, watched an episode of Entourage at one of the work-stations, and soon got a call from another Autumn-laner, Adrienne (a.k.a. Smidgy) who said she’d be arrive at Penn at 6:00.

Forgetting all about the CD which was the reason we went to Mike’s office in the first place, we left and met up with Adrienne at a bar near Penn Station and officially began the party night. I was already feeling like I’d accomplished something bringing all these people together again. Most hadn’t seen each other in as long as it’s been since I’ve seen them.

We headed to a different bar in lower Manhattan where some of Mike’s friends were waiting (including a couple of the people I’d met the previous weekend) and had a few more drinks there. The place was pretty awesome because they gave you a free personal pizza with every beer, which made finding food elsewhere nice and unnecessary.

Connie and Kim arrived after about an hour, and then our group was complete. Of the 10-12 people who had ever claimed Autumn Lane as a residence (officially or unofficially), there were 7 of us there. Not a bad number. It was lucky that Connie was also in town from Ohio, as the fact that two of us were back in town from very long distances made others feel even more obliged to come.

Yes, drinking in Manhattan. Just like last time, there are only foggy memories and blurry images, although I definitely didn’t get as wasted as last time because I stayed away from shots of any kind. Mike led us from place to place, including the speak-easy we’d gone to the previous weekend which was a little too loud for us to hear each other. We all took turns buying rounds for each other, and I think I bought three (which made it the most expensive night of the trip) but I can’t be sure.

I definitely remember forcing myself to take a step back every now and then and just appreciate what was going on. I hadn’t seen these people in years and I might never see them again, or at least for a very long time. The period of my life that I’d spent with them holds a very special place in my heart as it does all of ours, and it’s nice that that connection can still be maintained after so much time. It just felt nice to be around those people again. To be called “Kem” again (college was the only time in my life I introduced myself to people as my desired nick-name).

Naturally there was a ton of reminiscing, most of which isn’t worth going into here. Someone suggested that I write a book about Autumn Lane—that everyone write down their best memories and I put it all together. Naturally that sounded like a fantastic idea when we were all drunk but that obviously ain’t happening.

One clear memory: Someone asked Kim what she’s been up to now that she’s almost finished with her higher degree (either Masters or Ph.D.) in psychology, and whether she is the subject of any of her studies.

“No,” she answered strongly. “What do you think I do? Just sit around writing about myself all day? That’s what Kem does.”

I laughed along with the little jab, but inside I was just thinking “fuck you.” Not because there was no truth to that, but for quite the opposite reason. I do spend an inordinate amount of time writing about myself. But at least I’ve been turning my attention to other subjects recently—like my opinion about politics. Of course, right now I’m as guilty as I’ve ever been of that kind of self-indulgence (although this honestly feels more like a chore right now than self-indulgence, and besides I’ve barely included two lines of introspection).

Anyway, I remember having a nice chat with Kim on the cab ride back to Brooklyn, once we’d said goodbye to Adrienne (the first to leave) and Connie. I don’t remember what the conversation was about exactly, but I remember it was nice. I always used to love talking to her. I’ve always had a lot of respect for her, which is why her little jab at my writing earlier rubbed me the wrong way.

All in all it was a really great night that I’ll half-remember for the rest of my life. I couldn’t believe it actually happened but somehow it all came together. The next morning I said goodbye to each of them. First Kim, then later Luke and Marc. I have no idea if or when I’ll see any of them again, but if that’s the last night we’ll ever have spent together we can certainly say that we went out with a bang.

The Craziest Day

September 27th, 2010 No comments

I’m back at work now as I write this, in the one-hour period of time between lessons. I’m still slightly sick and extremely tired, and all I want to do is go home and relax but I have to write the account of at least the next two days of my trip before I can let myself off the hook for the day. So without further ado, here goes:

Friday, September 17, 2010

After two nights with my grandparents I was ready to head back home. Saturday was going to be the Big Day—the reunion with my closest college friends, the people who also lived at the notorious 12 Autumn Lane, an off-campus house with 7 residents, not counting Mike (the one now in Brooklyn) who squatted on our couch during most of that time and made for the unofficial 8th resident. I wanted to crash at his place in Brooklyn that night so I’d already be in New York the following day, but I needed to swing by my parent’s house in New Jersey first to pick up some fresh clothes.

The day began in Red Hook, as I rolled out of bed around 9:30, took a shower, and had breakfast with the grandparents. Shortly after eating we got a call from my aunt Marlene, who was supposed to have picked up my cousin Casey from the train station that morning but Casey missed the train. I decided to go to Marlene’s apartment in Rhinebeck and wait for Casey there, hoping she’d return before my planned departure of 2:30.

That was not to happen as Casey wouldn’t arrive until 3:00, but I spend the time from noon to about 2:00 with Marlene, in a completely different head-space than with my grandparents. Marlene was telling me things she remembered from my early childhood, shedding light on the darker parts of my past which I wrote about yesterday in an entry best kept private.

I stopped by my grandparents’ house at 2:00 for one last little talk, and we said our goodbyes at 2:30. Now I would be in a completely different mode-of-existence during the two-and-a-half hour drive home, which I finished with a little more driving around the back-roads of that area with which I became so familiar during my pizza delivery days.

Getting home around 5:00 I had some time to re-immerse myself in the internet side of my life, e-mailing people and getting up to speed with what little was happening on my new website Revolution Earth. Tearing myself back out of that head-space around 6:00 I had dinner with my parents, and got packed up and ready to go by 7:00.

Another conversion to driving-mode brought me back across the Goethals and Verrazano bridges and back to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where I arrived at Mike’s apartment just a few minutes before he did himself. After three different houses and five different modes of existence, I was now settling into the sixth and final head-space of the day—hanging out with an old friend from college.

To throw yet another thing into the mix, another one of my college friends, Kristin (whom I actually shared a room with at Autumn Lane) also lives in the same neighborhood and she came by to drink a beer (only one) with us and get caught up with me. We wanted to go out and have a few more drinks with her but she’s at a point in her life where she’s trying to avoid partying of any kind.

So Mike and I went out alone, to his favorite bar in Brooklyn—the name escapes me—which is also the oldest bar (or maybe it was the second oldest) in Brooklyn. There was karaoke going on which normally I hate but at least it kept things interesting. What struck me most about the bar was the crowd. There must have been at least one representative from every age group and cultural background on the planet. From twentysomethings to middle-aged folks to those pushing their senior years, from blacks to Hispanics to Asians to just plain old white city folk—I’ve never seen more diversity packed into one small space in my life. Quite the contrary atmosphere to anything you’d find in Germany, especially in a non-cosmopolitan city like Hannover.

I knew I wanted to save some energy for the next night, so Mike and I went back to his apartment at a relatively early hour (about 3:00) and ordered some food before going to sleep. I could hardly believe this was the same day in which I’d been eating breakfast with my grandparents. Three different meals in three different states, four different residences and two different long car-trips, that was definitely the most jam-packed day of the trip.

My Friend the Journalist in Philadelphia

September 25th, 2010 No comments

The last thing I’ll write about today (because the next part of the trip is of a completely different nature and most of it will have to be kept private) is the visit I took on Tuesday afternoon—the day after going back to my college to pitch the Revolution Earth website idea to my professor and a bunch of his students—to visit my former college room-mate Matt in Philly.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Matt was a journalism major who became one of the most active people on the school newspaper. When I roomed with him senior year, he even got to interview then-Senator John Corzine when he visited campus (in which he asked a tough question that almost got the senator to walk out on him). Now he’s working as a reporter for the Trenton Times, mostly covering Representative Rush Holt but also a lot of local politics.

I think he felt a little strange when I first got there because we weren’t really the super-duper-best-buddies-for-life kind of friends, but we’re both similar enough people in terms of our demeanor and our politics to make the conversation flow very easily. We had a few beers and sat on his porch for most of the beautiful afternoon discussing everything from what we’d each been up to for the last four years to what the hell is wrong with Obama and the democrats. Because he’s a local reporter he doesn’t follow the national news as closely as I do, but he knew his stuff well enough (and agreed with me on just about everything) to make the discussion both easy and fun. [Plus, when talking to a fellow Star Trek fan there’s always the added benefit of being able to use all kinds of references that just aren’t available with most people.]

It would be pointless to recount everything we spoke about other than the most interesting thing he told me, which was about the sad state of affairs in print journalism these days. Of course I knew print journalism was in trouble, but it was fascinating to get the inside story as it pertained to one specific paper, the Trenton Times. He can’t even be sure there will be a Trenton Times for much longer, and he knows that in his current career there is no realistic opportunity for advancement. Certainly none of the benefits like full health insurance that used to be available to reporters.

What I as a blogger found most interesting had to do with how all of his articles go up on NJ.com, which is an aggregate of all the major New Jersey papers (mostly the Star Ledger—the biggest one) which is run by the print papers themselves and apparently very poorly. While purely internet-based news aggregates like the Huffington Post clearly know what they’re doing, the print outlets apparently haven’t figured it out yet. His stuff usually gets buried in the local section and his articles sometimes get as few as two or three views and no comments.

[As an ironic aside, I told my dad about this later on and he said that he’s probably read a few of Matt’s articles on NJ.com because he recognized the name.]

I told Matt that my blog typically gets between 50 and 100 hits a day which he said was pretty good. I wasn’t sure because the lack of comments leads me to believe it’s mostly Spy-bots and people who come by mistake, but the fact that I occasionally get more views than he does—and he is an actual paid reporter for an actual newspaper—was shocking to me. Please believe that I’m not bragging—I just always assumed that my readership was pitiful compared to that of any actual journalist, but apparently that’s not the case. Apparently just as few people read the local online news as read random opinion blogs from no-name bloggers.

While I was there he got a call from his boss telling him that on the next day he’d have to go cover a press conference by some local politicians who would be introducing legislation that would ban sex-offenders from serving in public office. Obviously very risqué legislation—Matt ensured me he wouldn’t just be their stenographer. When politicians play political games, it’s his job to call them out on it, and that’s where I admire his job. Regardless of everything else, his actual job is something important and necessary to a functioning society. I can’t really say the same about mine.

All in all it was a very enjoyable afternoon and evening. We went to a pizzeria/brewery for dinner and had some very excellent pizza (and extremely disappointingly bad beer) and went back to his apartment to watch some TV—cycling between the baseball game and Rachel Maddow’s coverage of Tuesday night’s primaries in which Christine O’Donnell became a household name—until his girlfriend got home and I started to feel out-of-place.

So I left him with a friendly farewell and headed back to Jersey. He said he’d check out Revolution Earth which I’d told him about earlier, but as of yet he hasn’t signed up. Although to be fair, I haven’t looked for his column on NJ.com yet either. I suppose I’ll do that now, and maybe even link to it from this blog in case anyone who accidentally stumbles upon this site also wants to know what’s going on in New Jersey’s 12th district.

The Selling of the Site

September 25th, 2010 No comments

Anyone who hasn’t read The Revolution Earth Project post below should read that first, or none of this will make sense to you.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The last place I left off in my account of my trip back to America was the first weekend I spent in New York. I had to return on Sunday night because on Monday morning I had an appointment to meet with an old professor of mine, a Dr. Mort Winston, both to say hello and tell him about the website I’d been working on.

Going back to The College of New Jersey was an odd enough experience in the first place. Finding a parking spot on the campus was always a huge headache and I had the same experience this time, over four years since I’d had to park there almost every day. As I had so many times back then, I had to drive up to the top level of the parking garage before I could find any empty spaces. It already felt that I’d been sucked into a time-warp.

With the exception of one new building between the parking lot and the building with the philosophy department, everything looked exactly the same. I walked in and found Dr. Winston engaged in a conversation with the secretary, the same woman from four years ago. I also spotted Dr. Preti, another one of my professors but with whom I wasn’t as friendly (she once talked smack about Pink Floyd in response to a shirt I was wearing and I never completely forgave her) but she didn’t seem to recognize me and I didn’t bother stopping her because it seemed she was late for a class anyway.

But when Dr. Winston was done chatting with the secretary, he took me into his office and we got to talking. I knew that he occasionally read my blog because he leaves comments every now and then, but it was nice to hear him compliment me on my writing in person. Apparently we agree on about 90% of the issues, which makes sense to me because I attribute many of my opinions to his influence. His “Environmental Ethics” class, in particular, was a huge factor in determining my current outlook on the state of the world.

He eventually asked me about the project I’d alluded to in one of my e-mails to him to set up the appointment, and I had him go to revolutionearth.net and check it out. He quickly read the Welcome Message and said he liked what he saw, and I explained the rest of the idea as succinctly as I could. He recommended a few books and websites to me which I intend to check out more in-depth now that I have time again, about how humanity stands on a precipice from which we can either collapse or convert to a sustainable form of existence. This being the central idea of the website, I knew it would be right up his alley. He agreed to join the forum and post a few things, particularly about his work with Amnesty International. [As of now, he still hasn’t signed up but I’ll give him a gentle reminder later when I post a link to the site to Facebook for all to see].

I would have been satisfied with that, but he also invited me to sit in on his 12:00 Environmental Ethics class and tell the students about the idea—which naturally I couldn’t resist. He had to end our meeting shortly after 11:00 to do some final preparations, so I walked around campus to see what had and hadn’t changed, feeling like I’d stumbled into one of those dreams where you’re suddenly back at school only all of the people were different. It certainly felt weird being there as an alumnus as opposed to a student. It’s not like I’ve grown any taller in the last four years, but everything felt smaller somehow.

I got to the classroom at 12:00 and he introduced me to his honors students, with whom he apparently meets 40 minutes before the rest of them. There were about ten of them (four were attractive females, which my brain couldn’t help but register) and the adrenaline started pumping as he invited me up to tell them about Revolution Earth. Suddenly back in teacher-mode, I began by asking how many of them had ever used an online forum before, and a couple had used them for technical support. So I explained that it was the same sort of thing only with a more open exchange of ideas rather than just looking for specific solutions to technical problems.

The room was equipped with an internet-ready computer hooked up to an overhead projector, so I showed them the site itself and told them all the basic information about it, inviting all of them to sign up and post whatever they wanted—saying that even essays they would be writing for the Environmental Ethics class would probably be perfect for the site.

When I was done, there were about 20 minutes left with just the honors students, and I stayed for a discussion about 6 different potential scenarios for the way the world is going to go (will civilization collapse, will some other system take over, will we convert to a sustainable existence, etc.) and pretty much everyone believes, like me, that some kind of major collapse is the most likely outcome for humanity.

When the rest of the class came pouring in there were now between 30 and 40 students, and much to my pleasant surprise Dr. Winston invited me up to talk about the site again. I tried to make it more brief that time, which was easier because I’d already done it once, but I also made the point that while I know it’s a starry-eyed fantasy that a site like this is going to bring the people of earth together to come up with a way to live sustainably, we really have no choice but to try and this is how I’ve decided to go about it. I once again invited everyone to post their essays to the site, which Dr. Winston said was a good idea.

As crazy as it felt to be pitching my website in front of a college classroom, the truly surreal part came afterwards when I stayed for the rest of the lecture, which was about anthropocentrism and how nearly all major philosophers who’ve tackled ethical issues throughout the ages have treated human beings as the be-all/end-all of moral consideration. I’d gotten the same lecture nearly five years before, and while then it had felt very new and profound, I’d somehow become so intimately familiar with these ideas in the mean-time that it was really just a review at that point. But sitting in that college classroom and getting the same lecture from the same professor I’d had five years ago was the most dreamlike time-warp moment of my entire trip back to America.

Because I’d mentioned I needed programmers, Dr. Winston suggested I meet a student of his named Eric whom he said thought the same way as me and who also had a website. I met with Eric after class and discovered that he does have a website but he didn’t design it, and the website designers he knows don’t come cheap. But talking to Eric was interesting anyway, as he and a few of his friends are living by a “Don’t Buy Anything” philosophy which if universally adopted would certainly make for a sustainable existence for all humanity. He gets nearly everything including clothes and electronic equipment from things that other people throw away, and food that his friend’s uncle at a Deli discards at the end of the day. His whole thing was to encourage as many other people to live that way and turn the tide of over-consumption from the ground up, as he doesn’t see the government ever making the change willingly. I said that I agree that changing the system itself might be impossible, but that I honestly don’t think that enough people would willingly switch to such a lifestyle to really make a difference. At any rate, he gave me his website and I reminded him of the name of mine and we parted ways on good terms. I don’t think either of us have visited each others’ sites though.

That whole day felt pretty great—like I’d really accomplished something in terms of the website—but the whole thing might have been a bust. College students, I’d somehow forgotten, are pretty lazy people and they don’t want to spend their free time talking to strangers on some internet website. They certainly aren’t going to write anything that isn’t assigned to them (I never started writing serious things voluntarily until after I graduated) so it was a little foolish of me to think I might get a few new members that way.

Still, I can always ask Dr. Winston to remind his students about the site, and perhaps to encourage one or two of them to post their essays if he reads some essays that he thinks are really good. So I doubt the whole thing was a total bust.

Website aside, during our meeting Dr. Winston also suggested that one of the possible directions I can take my life is to work for an Environmental Sustainability department of a major corporation, perhaps putting my writing skills to use for them. I might even approach E.ON, the energy company all of my students are from here in Germany, to see if I can put those connections to use.

I’ll have to talk to a few people before I decide which road to go down, but it’s nice that there’s another road open to me. As of now, there’s teaching English in Japan which is still my first choice, remaining here and working hard on the website which I’ll be doing anyway by default, and looking for work in the corporate world (the non-evil side of it) which I can always do at a later time.

So while looking back now it doesn’t seem like a very important day in my life’s history, it may turn out in the long-run to be quite pivotal.

The Revolution Earth Project

September 25th, 2010 No comments

Before I continue with my account of my visit to America, I must first mention something that has thus far only been alluded to on this blog—the “Secret Project” I’d been working on before I went back to the states. I introduced it to a few friends and fellow bloggers even before leaving, and I told a bunch of people back home about it, but so far I haven’t mentioned it on my blog because I wanted the people I talked to in person about it to be hearing about it for the first time.

Now that that’s no longer a concern, I can announce right here on Kemstone.com that I have started another website: revolutionearth.net.

The idea came to me after my disastrous foray into the world of Daily Kos, in which I discovered that the internet’s most popular left-wing website is full of total assholes who have no interest in productive dialog and instead use the site to get their jollies either having their opinions confirmed by those who think exactly like them, or ganging up on and tearing into anyone who thinks differently or even seems to think differently based on the conclusions they jump to after reading only the title and first couple of paragraphs.

To be fair, plenty of people on the site seemed genuinely interested in civil discussion and honest debate over ideas, but the majority just wanted to score points for Team Democrat. I ultimately decided that trying to get through to people on such a forum would be a useless waste of my time and mental energy—especially as they also lambaste you for not sitting by your computer and defending your post to everyone who comments in the hours after it goes up. Sorry, I just don’t have the patience for that, especially when most of the comments are going to be abusive unless you’re 100% preaching to the choir.

So after I’d given up on that site, as I was lying down and trying to go to sleep, an idea popped into my head: “Why don’t you start your own forum?” And just like that—I knew I had the answer. Not just the answer to the bullshit I’d gone through that weekend but the answer to my entire life.

I’ve always been a deep thinker who focuses on “big picture” issues like the nature of reality, the global political structure, and the fate of mankind within a cold and inhospitable universe. And while I’m always thinking about the question of whether humanity will ultimately destroy itself through its own ignorance or advance to a new state of being whereby we can live peacefully and sustainably on Earth and beyond, I had no idea what I could possibly do with my limited skills to help make the second possibility a more likely one.

This is why I decided to create a forum with the question of humanity’s survival or extinction as its central underlying theme. That same night, I came up with a name and bought the domain name revolutionearth.net as well as revolutionearth.org, and found a site that would allow me to create my own multi-user discussion forum.

Other the next couple of weeks I worked on it and finally had it ready to go by Tuesday, August 31st, when I invited a bunch of people to check out the forum, register as new members, and begin posting relevant things they’d written to the site.

The first few days felt like a smashing success, as nearly everyone I’d invited expressed interest and a few even began posting some excellent pieces of writing that led to what I thought was some really great discussion.

Then things started to peter out somewhat as the steady stream of new users died off at 15 and I found myself driving all over the place and visiting tons of people, not all of whom I told about the site (some people I knew wouldn’t be interested even if I had mentioned it). As of now, it might even appear that the site is a dismal failure. An honest attempt at starting something that just never got going.

But to pronounce it dead at this point would be the most premature call in the history of my life, as I haven’t even really begun to start pushing this thing. As of now I’ve only invited people privately, either through e-mail or in person. I haven’t posted a link to it on Facebook yet, and until now I haven’t even mentioned it on this blog.

But now that this post is written and the cat is out of the proverbial bag, I can begin the next stage of the recruitment process, which will hopefully bear more fruit than the first.

If this is the first you’re hearing about the project even though you spoke with me in person while I was back in the states, it’s because I didn’t think you’d be interested. If I’m wrong, please go to the site now and sign up.

If you don’t think you’ll have the time or patience to write anything but still like the idea, go to the site and sign up anyway. The higher the number of registered users, the more likely it will be for new users to register.

More details about the website itself—its purpose, as well as immediate and long-term plans for development—are posted to the forum under “The Project” which you can visit directly by following this link.

And now that you know about the project, I am free to write about how others reacted to it.