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Down With the Debt Deal

July 31st, 2011 No comments

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I’ve been holding off on ranting about these debt negotiations for weeks, mostly because I’ve already blasted President Obama for his political incompetence and/or malfeasance so many times that there’s nothing new to say. But as the clock ticks down to the arbitrary deadline for raising this arbitrary debt ceiling and the news media milks all of the drama out of this absurd charade as they possibly can, I just want to briefly remind everyone that there was never any need for this “crisis” in the first place and that it’s still completely possible for the President to have the debt ceiling raised without striking any kind of deal with Republicans.

To just briefly clarify my position, I think the negotiations over raising the debt ceiling have been leading to one of the worst deals for the American people that a Democratic president has ever been willing to accept. I agree with economists like Robert Reich that now is not the time to make massive spending cuts, and I stand with the majority of the American people in believing that while eliminating waste in our national budget should absolutely be a long-term priority, what’s needed most in the here-and-now of the recession is more spending to create jobs, thus putting more money in the hands of the middle class and spurring demand to help kick-start the economy again. Once unemployment is reduced, then we can talk about debt reduction.

Instead of making this case however, our compromiser-in-chief has been playing the same bipartisan-posturing game he always plays and agreeing with the Republicans that debt-reduction should be Priority One in order to appear like the most reasonable man in the room. He’s certainly succeeded in appearing that way and it’s going to help him politically in the short-term, but he seems oblivious to the fact that there will be consequences to the painful cuts he’s willing to make and that if he does nothing to reduce unemployment between now and Election Day 2012, the American people—most of whom don’t pay close attention to politics—are going to fire him no matter how reasonable he appears today.

The most pull-your-hair-in-frustration part of this entire debacle is the fact that it never needed to come to this in the first place. The debt ceiling can be raised without any debt ceiling deal whatsoever. The Republicans are holding the economy hostage [again] in order to force the president to meet their draconian demands, and he’s playing along because he thinks conceding to these demands (and acting like he agrees with most of them in the first place) helps him politically. But it turns out there’s no need to meet any of these demands at all—the Republicans are writing ransom notes but they’re not actually holding anything hostage.

By now almost everyone has heard of the idea of invoking the 14th Amendment to get around Republican threats not to raise the debt ceiling. Because it says that “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law . . . shall not be questioned” the President could theoretically declare that the United States will pay the money that Congress has already appropriated no matter what threats the opposition party is issuing.

What far fewer people are aware of—and I didn’t even know about this until receiving an e-mail about it this morning—is that there’s a way around these debt ceiling negotiations in the debt-ceiling law itself. Quoting now from the Public Debt Law of 1941:

The face amount of obligations issued under this chapter and the face amount of obligations whose principal and interest are guaranteed by the United States Government (except guaranteed obligations held by the Secretary of the Treasury) may not be more than [some arbitrary huge number] . . .

With the approval of the President, the Secretary of the Treasury may borrow on the credit of the United States Government amounts necessary for expenditures authorized by law.

By now it’s painfully clear to all of us that the full faith and credit of the United States should not be placed in the hands of children (i.e. politicians) to play political games with. Luckily, the drafters of the public debt law were wise enough to give the president the express and unilateral authority to direct the Treasury Secretary to cover any and all expenditures that have already been authorized by Congress. We can negotiate all day long over future spending, but money that’s already been appropriated must be spent no matter what the clowns on Capitol Hill have to say about it.

Whether he invokes the 14th Amendment or the Public Debt Law of 1941, the best thing the President can do for the middle class, for the markets, and for the international reputation of the United States is to end these absurd debt talks now, save Medicare and Social Security from the cuts he’s been poised to make to them, and proclaim to the American people and our foreign creditors that no matter what kinds of political games get played in Washington, the United States of America always pays its bills.

Yes, he’d take a short-term hit for waiting so long to do this, and the conservative media would blast him mercilessly for shutting Republicans out of the process (they’d no doubt accuse him of behaving like a dictator) but in the long-term I believe it would not just help America but help Obama as well, as he’s been desperately needing to flex some muscles and show some spine for quite some time, and if he doesn’t do it now—with both the majority of Americans and the law on his side—he never will.

If you feel as I do, please take a moment to visit this link and have a fax submitted to the White House and your representatives in your name saying as much. We can still get the debt ceiling raised without having to swallow this awful budget-slashing legislation they’ve been working on, but only if we make it clear to our elected officials that we’re aware of the fact that we can.

My Gay Wedding Experience

July 27th, 2011 No comments

Historic Gay Wedding Photo

You never know when life will suddenly land you right in the middle of a semi-historic event, but when it does it helps to be equipped with a camera and your own blog.

I haven’t had much time to write lately as I just recently returned from Germany after teaching English there for three years, and I’m currently back in the USA for about a month before starting work in Japan. During that time I’ll be criss-crossing the country and visiting every old friend and family member who might want to see me. One of those visits took place this past Saturday evening, and it led to something completely unexpected.

I have an aunt and uncle with three kids who live on Long Island in Glen Cove, NY, and I went there Saturday expecting merely an afternoon and evening of chatting with the parents and playing with the kids. During an epic 5-hour session in their swimming pool (the heat was still pretty unbearable on Saturday) my aunt got a phone call from one of her friends from their church. Apparently, two fellow church members—a gay couple by the names of Gaitley and Jim—were having a small ceremony at the town hall at midnight just as the new gay marriage legislation was going into effect in order to be among the first gay couples in the state of New York to have their marriage officially recognized.

My aunt asked me if I wouldn’t mind going, and of course I said “of course!” Just a few weeks ago I’d been cheering the state legislature’s decision from across the ocean in Germany, and now I had an opportunity to be right at the epicenter of the historic occasion. I wouldn’t pass up such an opportunity for the world.

So at 11:15 I went with my aunt, uncle, and two of their kids (the third will, I expect, eventually regret his decision not to go) to Glen Cove’s town hall and were greeted at the back entrance by the mayor himself, Ralph Suozzi, and his wife. The front door was closed and locked, and there were no formal announcements made regarding the ceremony. They wanted to be extra cautious in case there were any nuts out there who might be inclined to make some kind of bloody political statement.

It was a relatively small gathering, about 30 people altogether, and the first thing the happy couple did was get everyone in attendance together for a few photographs downstairs. The actual ceremony would take place upstairs where the clerk could print out the marriage license and have them sign it, but this wouldn’t be able to happen until 12:01.

It was hot and crowded upstairs, but the anticipation of the moment to come was enough to keep the attendees from complaining. Someone had brought a case of bottled water to hand out to anyone who wanted one, which was a nice gesture.

The happy couple. Jim in front, Gaitlee behind.

Because of the timing issue, they had to separate the ceremony into two parts. At about quarter to eleven, Mayor Suozzi started things off by saying a few words to the effect that this was one of the proudest moments of his political career and he didn’t care if it lost him a few votes in the next election. I think it’ll actually help him, as just about every gay person and supporter of gay rights in Glen Cove will now be much more likely to show up to the polls than they might have been before—a political calculation I think it would be wise of the current President of the United States to make as well.

Religion and gay marriage CAN mix.

After the “I do”s, they paused to let the remaining time before midnight pass, and that’s when Gaitley addressed the crowd to make his emotional speech about what this meant to him. He said that while they’d actually been “married” twice before (once as an unofficial ceremony and once in a different state where gay marriage was legal) this meant the most to him because now his partnership with Jim would be officially recognized by his home state as 100% equal to the marriages that all other couples enjoy. He compared the feeling of being in a gay relationship to being a Jew during Christmas, watching everyone else enjoying the whole Santa Claus thing but knowing that it wasn’t for you. He said, “But today it feels like not only is it Christmas but Santa is real and he’s coming!”

The crowd was mostly made up of middle-aged and older people, not exactly the stereotypical image of gay rights enthusiasts, but they were all visibly happy for their friends, applauding frequently throughout Gaitley’s speech.

Gaitley remarked on how he’d never expected this to happen in his lifetime, but here they were. Jim was a lot more shy than his partner, first declining to say anything but then remarking on how happy he was to have found such a wonderful circle of friends in Glen Cove. One thing that was apparent to everyone was just how overjoyed the two of them were. Gaitley was positively beaming.

Making it official.

At midnight, the clerk printed out the marriage license and the two of them got to filling out the paperwork. The number on their marriage license was 10, so it appeared that 9 other couples in New York had beaten them to the punch, but it was still cool enough to witness the 10th gay marriage in the history of the state of New York, as that number will probably balloon to tens of thousands very shortly.

Once everything was signed and notarized, Mayor Suozzi stepped up to complete the ceremony. The rings were exchanged and the pronouncement was made: “By the power vested in me by the state of New York, I now pronounce you married!”

Mayor Suozzi at the big moment.

Big kiss, thunderous applause, champagne corks popping…just like any other wedding only with one additional element: this was not only a marriage but also a victory. This was the culmination of decades upon decades of fighting relentlessly in pursuit of equality on the part of the gay community, and in New York state they’ve now triumphed. It should only be a matter of time before the rest of the country follows suit.

Two nights later I was visiting another set of relatives whom I don’t want to besmirch by identifying in any way, but suffice it to say they’re from an older generation and spend a good deal of time watching Fox News. I had to hear their reaction when I mentioned that I’d been to a gay wedding, and it was a combination of amusement and mild disdain.

We launched into the standard arguments for and against gay marriage, and I poked holes in every case they laid out. “The purpose of marriage is for procreation,” they said. “Then what about a barren woman? Should the state ban her from getting married? What about a very old couple that can no longer produce children? No marriage for them either?”

“If gays can get married, what’s to stop a man from marrying a cow?” My reply: “There’s no slippery-slope argument. As long as there’s consent from both parties, the marriage should be legal. Cows, children, and inanimate objects can’t consent, so the slope ends at gay couples (and possibly polygamy, which I also don’t have a problem with)”.

Of course it all boils down to religion. “The Bible says marriage is between a man and a woman.” “Or a man and many women,” I said, “the Bible says that too.” “The Bible says homosexuality is an abomination.” My reply: “If God hates gay people, why did he create so many of them? Either he made a mistake or he meant to create them.” They insisted that God doesn’t make mistakes, so I insisted it had to be part of his intention. Their only response was that it might be some kind of test. I decided not to say that if God intends to test people by making them fall in love with members of the same sex and then demanding that they never act on this love, he’s a cruel sort of God indeed.

Love, after all, is really what it’s really all about. I wished my relatives could have been at this ceremony, as the love between Gaitley and Jim was powerful, their joy at having this love now deemed equal to the love of everyone else was palpable. I don’t think anyone could have been at this ceremony and not seen it as a good thing.

“They just want to be treated like everybody else,” I said. In unison they replied, “They’re not like everybody else!” Resisting my urge to start singing my favorite Kinks song, I summed up their feelings by saying, “So you believe that your heterosexual love should be legally superior to their homosexual love?” They said yes.

And that’s really all there is to it. People who are opposed to gay marriage don’t necessarily hate gay people—they just see them as inferior, and don’t believe their love is as valuable as the love between a man and a woman.

The solution is clear, and luckily the gay community has already been carrying it out with great success for some time now: come out. Come out of the closet and let everyone see your love, let them see how happy it makes you and how the only difference between it and the love they feel is that it’s directed at someone who happens to share the same anatomy.

If everyone in the country could attend a gay wedding and experience that kind of joy first-hand, there’s no doubt in my mind that gay marriage would be legal nationwide within a couple of years. Here’s hoping it will be anyway.

Cenk Uygur’s MSNBC Triumph

July 21st, 2011 No comments

I haven’t written about Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks in awhile, but last night he told a story on his show that blew me away.  Hearing Cenk’s account of how MSNBC dumped him as a host in spite of his excellent ratings, then how he turned down their offer to make almost twice as much money as a contributor so long as he toned it down and kept his mouth shut about the inner workings of the network made me prouder than ever to be a TYT soldier. I think it calls for some over-the-top gushing, which I shall engage in presently in the hopes that it might get a few more people to watch the online show.

 

It took me far too long to discover the online news-and-commentary show The Young Turks, but once I did I couldn’t remember how I’d ever managed to digest the news without it. There are so many ways to get informed about politics these days, and while many people still believe there’s such a thing as “objective” newsmedia and that this alone is the proper way to obtain information, I’ve long since been of the opinion that there is no such thing as true objectivity, and if you’re going to listen to a news anchor or cable host every night, you might as well know exactly where they’re coming from and through what kind of lens your information is being filtered.

What made The Young Turks so perfect is that the lens through which its host Cenk Uygur views politics is almost identical to mine, and to all freethinking progressives. While most of the media still insists on framing the issues in terms of conservative Republicans vs. liberal Democrats, Cenk understands that the real power-struggle going on is between the Washington establishment (which includes Wall Street banks, oil companies, defense contractors, and every other giant corporation that buys influence in D.C.) and the masses of average American people. He’s not afraid to point out that the Democrats are not nearly as liberal as they’d have us believe, and in many cases (military spending, drug policy, and so on) the Republicans aren’t actually ‘conservative’ in the true sense of the word.

But it wasn’t until President Obama started revealing his true colors as more of a Washington-insider than the People’s Champion he ran as that I started tuning into TYT every day and became a paying member. While almost every other figure in the liberal media insisted on not only giving the president the benefit of the doubt on his compromises with Republicans but singing the praises of his hollow victories like health-care reform (massive gift to insurance companies) and so-called ‘historic’ financial reform (massive gift to investment bankers), Cenk Uygur was not the least bit shy about delving into the details of these policies and loudly trumpeting his opinion—one which I and apparently hundreds of thousands of others share—that this is not the kind of ‘change’ we were promised, that Obama’s ‘accomplishments’ are little more than window-dressing, tinkering around with a few cogs in a machine that’s on the verge of a complete breakdown.

Cenk is the only one who consistently and loudly calls attention to the core problem at the heart of the American political system: the politicians do not work for the people they represent—they work for the people who pay them. As long as politicians take money from private health insurance corporations and pharmaceutical companies, we’ll never get real health care reform. As long as politicians take money from defense contractors, we’ll never stop wasting money on unnecessary wars. As long as politicians take money from Wall Street, our financial system will never be secure enough to prevent future collapses from happening.

This is a truth so obvious that you’d think Americans from all political backgrounds would be able to understand it, but most people are still trapped in the Left vs. Right narrative fed to them by the mainstream media, and that’s why it was such a treat to see Cenk bring this message right into the heart of the beast when he began guest-hosting some of the cable news shows on MSNBC and eventually took over as the regular host at 6 p.m.

Cenk understood that the problem with the mainstream media is essentially the same as the problem with government: the journalists work for the people who pay them, and the people who pay them work for giant corporations which themselves collect their revenue from other giant corporations. Cable-news hosts understand that certain narratives are perfectly acceptable to present, while others shouldn’t be touched with a ten-foot pole. They may not be explicitly ordered by the higher-ups to stay away from these themes, but it’s somewhat of an unspoken etiquette that you can be as fierce as you want towards a particular politician or political party, but the Establishment itself should always be respected.

And so it was both fascinating and delightful to watch Cenk enter the lion’s den and trample all over this etiquette, take on the talking-heads and make those heads explode. When a Republican would make a disingenuous argument, Cenk would rip them to shreds and smile while doing so, but he’d even go after so-called progressive Democrats who talked about the need for compromises such as raising the Social Security Retirement age, his incredulous reaction to their unnecessary capitulations a sweet cathartic release of my own frustration at being so casually tossed under the bus by my so-called ‘representatives’ in government.

Cenk spoke truth to power within a machine that essentially runs on deference to that power. The most iconic moment was probably the time Cenk asserted in front of an entire panel of conventional-wisdom peddlers like Jonathan Alter that over 90% of the politicians in both parties in Washington were bought-and-paid-for, and the pundits acted as though he’d just accused Mother Teresa of being a child-molester. Cenk asked them to name a few politicians that weren’t bought, and the best Alter could come up with was “Chuck Schumer”, one of Wall Street’s biggest helpers on the hill.

During Cenk’s run at MSNBC, he lent the network a certain degree of credibility that it had never had before, as it seemed that if they were going to let someone go after the establishment as forcefully as Cenk went after them, they must not be completely in the pockets of the corporate plutocracy.

But alas, it turns out that it was only a fluke. Like Howard Beale in the iconic film Network, Cenk Uygur could only “meddle with the primal forces of nature” for a short while before being taken into a back-room and told how the world really works.

According to Cenk, he was told by one of the producers there that there are ‘two audiences’: the average people to whom he appealed, and the management. And while he was having incredible success with the average people—his ratings were even higher than Ed Schultz’s had been in the same time-slot, he was crushing Wolf Blitzer on a consistent basis, and even beating Fox News among the younger demographic—the management, however, wasn’t happy. They didn’t like his ‘tone’ and felt that he wasn’t ‘playing ball’. Some ‘people in Washington’ weren’t happy with him, and as such he was under warning to tone it down a bit and show some more deference to the politicians who came on his show.

A normal person would have probably nodded his head and accepted this direction, grateful just to be given a second chance, but that’s not Cenk’s style. He promised his TYT viewers when he took the job that he would never become a tool of the establishment, and instead of backing off he doubled-down, and from April through June came down even harder on the crooked politicians, on the disingenuous Republicans, and most of all on the increasingly right-leaning Obama administration. Cenk went unscripted and spoke out forcefully, calling on progressives to stand up and fight, to stop waiting for our leaders in Washington to change things for us and to step up and demand change for ourselves.

Lo and behold, after a few months of this Cenk was called into the office again and told that he would no longer be the host at 6 p.m. They wanted him in a ‘different role’—that of a paid contributor, making the occasional appearance on some of MSNBC’s other shows, just another drop in the ocean of talking-heads at the network’s disposal. Of course, they’d be willing to pay him even more than he was making as a host. Less work, more money? Okay…what’s the catch?

The only catch, it seems, was that Cenk couldn’t talk about what had gone on behind the scenes at MSNBC. He’d basically just discovered from personal experience why the picture of Washington we get from the media is so skewed, but he couldn’t share that insight with his TYT audience if he took the deal. They told him, “Outsiders are cool, everybody would love to be an outsider…but we’re not outsiders. We’re insiders. We’re the establishment.”

Such an incredibly revealing piece of insight would be invaluable to share with The Young Turks audience, to give us a better understanding of the way the media world operates. All he had to do to remain at MSNBC as a contributor was to keep this story to himself.

And so came the Moment of Truth. Cenk had to decide which was his higher priority—his television career or his online audience. He chose us.

On behalf of all TYT members and fans, I want to express our sincerest “Thank You” to Cenk for doing the right thing. We won’t get to see him on TV anymore letting loose on the pundits and bringing the frustration of progressives out into the spotlight for the entire Washington establishment to see, but now we’ll have him all to ourselves again as he can turn all his focus and attention back to the show he created and within which he’s not bound by any strings.

I hope this is the dawn of a new era for TYT. Cenk has now been inside the beast—it swallowed him up, he didn’t sit right in its stomach, and it spit him back out—and now he knows a bit more about its inner workings. And now that he’s got nothing left to lose in terms of the establishment media, he can feel even freer to speak his mind even more forcefully than before.

Thanks to Cenk, we now have a better understanding of how the media machine works and why it’s so pathetically ill-suited to make democracy function properly: it’s not that there’s a secret cabal of powerful men in a back-room somewhere calling all the shots—it’s simply that the people in charge of the media world are closely connected to the people in charge in the political world, and as such they won’t allow their friends in the political world to be challenged too strongly. If you only watch Old Media, you will never get an untainted view of politics.

The New Media is the future of journalism, and with the unprecedented success of The Young Turks, Cenk is leading the way. His stint at MSNBC will probably be spun as a failure in the rest of the media, but to us it should be seen as a triumph. Those of us who’ve chosen to get most of our political commentary from Cenk Uygur can now be sure we picked the right guy. The story of how Cenk refused to be gobbled up by the establishment should be told far and wide, and it should help to get more people watching the show. Let’s keep spreading the word, keep recruiting new soldiers, and keep building the movement. One day it might be big enough to accomplish something, even without the help of the mainstream media.

Long live TYT!!!

Crossroads

July 18th, 2011 No comments

Backyard at my parents' house in NJ.

Well, I’ve been back in the states for three days now and already feel like I never left. The entire life I had in Germany is already starting to feel like one big dream that I just woke up from.

After finishing my last blog entry from Hannover, I spent the next several hours packing up, throwing stuff away, and taking care of a few last-minute tasks like closing my bank account. I had to leave a lot of stuff in my apartment that my landlord is going to have to deal with, but it’s his fault for never getting back to me all those times I called to let his receptionist know I was moving out. I was always told he’d contact me shortly but he never did, and on the last week I sent him a fax just letting him know the situation and that he’d probably have to throw some of my stuff away because I didn’t have time to dispose of it properly. In any case, he has most of my security deposit money and the number where I can be reached here in case it costs him more than that, so as weird as it feels to leave all that there I feel like I did all I could do.

Goodbye to my building.

Oliver came by while I was doing that and helped me finish up, then I bid a fond farewell to the flat and we drove to his friend Peda’s apartment in a town called Witten, which is on the outskirts of Dortmund and only a 40-minute drive to the Düsseldorf airport. There we had a pleasant evening, staying up late reminiscing and joking around like old times, and in the morning he drove me to the airport and we said our final farewell.

About 10 hours later I was landing in JFK and my Dad picked me up and drove me back here. The first evening was quite enjoyable, drinking and talking to my parents and my brother Billy, who is now 18 years old and on his way to college at the end of next month.

House of the Blue Men.

Saturday was mostly uneventful, but Sunday we all drove into the city (that’s what “New York City” is called around here) to see Blue Man Group, which I’ve been wanting to see for many years and was not disappointed. The music was as great as I knew it would be from the albums I have, but the show was also much more comedic than I’d expected. One of the coolest things was that before the show, one of the stage-hands asked Billy if he’d like to be a My brother, honorary Blue Man.part of the show, then took him to the back and told him what to expect. At the end of the show the blue men brought him up on stage, put a little blue mark on his face, then put him in a costume and a helmet and brought him backstage. On the screen it showed him getting splashed with blue paint, tied up by the heals and then smashed against a canvas to make an imprint of his body in blue paint, then the blue men came out on stage rolling a box with some gelatin on the top and it was revealed that his head was actually inside the gelatin. We found out later that it wasn’t actually him getting smashed against the canvas.

Misogyny bar. After the show we walked to a nearby tavern called McSorley’s, which my Dad says is the oldest continuously-operating tavern in NYC, which didn’t used to allow women up until a couple decades ago, and when they were finally forced to they just didn’t put in a ladies’ room. We each drank some beer there but it wasn’t that great and the place smelled pretty funky so we left after just fifteen minutes or so.

We then drove most of the way back home and stopped at an Irish bar/restaurant for dinner and more drinks, and had a very pleasant evening there before finally coming home.

I contacted a bunch of people when I got back to try and figure out who I can visit and when, but most of them haven’t gotten back to me yet. I’ll almost definitely be going to Brooklyn this weekend and possibly up to Red Hook to see my grandparents next weekend, but it all depends on a lot of things.

As for my overall feelings, it’s actually hard to say. I’m simultaneously glad to be back and sad to be away from Germany, but thanks to Skype I’m able to keep in touch with my closest Germany friends (I’m actually chatting with Oliver as I write this) but it’s still weird to think I won’t be seeing them in person for many years. I’m also extremely excited to be going to Japan next month, but a little nervous that I still haven’t gotten any definite information from them regarding my city-placement or date of arrival. I just sent them an e-mail to inform them of my change of address and phone number, as well as a little “wtf?” (though much more professional) to express my concern over it being only a month before I’m expected to go there and I still don’t have any of the details.

But overall, I really don’t have anything to complain about. My life right now is actually pretty frickin’ awesome when you think about it. I’ve got at least a month of little more to do than hang around, visit people I love, and kick my Japanese-studying into overdrive. I might also do a little driving for Domino’s like old times, as one of Billy’s friends works there now and he said he might be able to get something worked out for me whereby I’m not actually a full-time employee but just on-call for busy evenings. And then next month (assuming all goes smoothly) I’ll actually be starting a new life in JAPAN!!! It’s quite a major crossroads I’m at now, and it’s impossible not to appreciate how monumental it is.

I don’t know how frequently I’ll be posting over the next few weeks, but I assume it’ll remain about as frequent as before. If you’re one of my American friends and you’re reading this and I haven’t contacted you, feel free to contact me if you want to meet up sometime and I’d be happy to. I only contacted the people I saw last time but there are plenty of others I’d like to see that I’m just not sure would be interested.

See you soon?

Goodbye, Hannover

July 14th, 2011 No comments

neues Rathaus Hannover

This will be my last journal entry from Hannover. In a few minutes, Lena will swing by to say goodbye to me, and at around 2:00 Oliver will come to help me put the finishing touches on my packing and throwing stuff away. When that’s done we’ll be driving to Dortmund where Oliver knows a guy who knows of a good place to camp, and we’ll either spend the night camping outside or in the apartment of Oliver’s friend. The next morning we’ll head from there to nearby Düsseldorf, from where my plane will take me back to America and the next chapter of my life.

I’ve spent the last few days living pretty much like I always have, spending lots of time in my box but heading out frequently for errands, jogging, or cycling. On Tuesday evening I went out for a little farewell dinner with Amanda, Tom (the guy from Atlanta), and Lena. We’d thought that would be the last time I’d see Lena but when we finished eating she said she didn’t want to say goodbye that night and would make sure to see me on Thursday. That goodbye will probably happen before I finish this entry [it did, and was very sad].

Once Lena and Tom had gone, Amanda kept buying us rounds of beer and we ended up staying there until extremely late at night, getting drunk to the point where I was loose-lipped enough to get into a discussion of my sexual issues, and she was insisting that we go to a sex-worker and get my virginity taken that night so it wouldn’t be such a big deal to me anymore. In a normal state of mind I wouldn’t even consider it, but it was kind of tempting at that level of drunkenness. Still, no amount of drunkenness would be enough to get me to throw my virginity away on a prostitute—sex with someone who’s only doing it for business has no appeal to me whatsoever, and since I’m perfectly content in my long-term virginity (except for a few highly unfortunate side-effects), that’s just not something I was willing to do.

But I had to give Amanda credit for at least trying to help me out, and coming closer than anyone else has. It was a bittersweet farewell when I hugged her goodbye and she rode her bike away, then I stumbled back towards my apartment just as the rain began to fall heavily. I waited in a doorway of a building for it to let up, dozed off for awhile, then got back up and headed home as the sun began to rise.

I had to suffer through the after-effects for most of yesterday, so unfortunately I didn’t squeeze as much appreciation out of Hannover on my last full day here than I would have liked, but the weather was terrible anyway so all I did was go for one last bike ride in the morning.

But after the sun had gone down last night, the power went off in the whole city. One of the things I always found interesting about Germany was that in all the years I’ve spent here (almost 4 if you include my exchange-student year) was that I’d never experienced a single power-blackout. I’m not sure if this one was weather-related or simply the result of an overloaded grid due to the fact that those nuclear reactors aren’t running anymore (that would make my E.ON students very happy) but the fact that the very first blackout I’ve experienced in Germany came on my very last night in Hannover was a bit of a noteworthy coincidence. Of course I went outside and walked around to get a feel for it, heading through the train station (my last time there) and to the Raschplatz on the other side, which is the first place I had to go when I first arrived in Hannover about three years ago. That feels simultaneously like yesterday and a million years ago.

And this morning I went for one final jog down along the river and for a brief time next to the Maschsee, fully aware the whole time that I wouldn’t be seeing any of these lovely, familiar areas again for quite some time. I can hardly believe that my life here is over.

I’ll leave reflecting on my time here as a whole for another day, as right now I’m focused on the logistical nightmare of getting me and all my stuff back across the ocean. For now I’ll just leave you with some pictures of Hannover I took recently, most from the top of the Rathaus and a few from just walking or cycling around.

It’s been a joy, Hannover. Bis zum nächsten Mal!

From the top of the Rathaus. Towards my street.

Marktkirche Maschteich

Maschsee AWD Arena

Aegidientorplatz Stadthalle

 Eilenriede Deutsche Bahn

Hiroshima Gedenkhain This is in one of Hannover's loveliest parks.

My favorite spot in the Eilenriede. Moments made for living in the moment.

Maschsee at sunset. As far north along the river as you can go by bike.

My street. Auf wiedersehen.

Das Letzte Wochenende

July 10th, 2011 No comments

Klettern

In less than a week my life here will be over, I’ll be back in America and the entire 3-year-long experience will be nothing more than a memory (and nearly a thousand pages’ worth of journal entries). I’ve been going about my life as though diagnosed with a terminal illness, thinking “is this the last time I’ll ever…?” for just about everything I do. I knew that this past Friday night was officially my last Friday night in Germany, and now every single day is the last [x]day I’ll have here.

Thankfully, my last Friday and last Saturday were excellent, full of experiences perfectly appropriate to be among my last in Germany. On Friday afternoon, Lena picked me up and drove me to Celle where she, Oliver, and I spent the evening in the backyard, playing with the dog, making a bonfire, and, naturally, drinking lots of beer. It was the first time I’d hung out with both of them together in at least a month and it was a lovely time as usual, made a little more emotional by knowing it would be my last night there in Celle. We talked about lots of things, none of which are as important as the fact that we had nice conversations in the first place. I remember them asking me what I’ll miss most about Germany, and while they said “other than the people” the honest answer is that it will be the two of them.

I may never spend the night in Celle again (when I come back to visit they might have moved on by then), but I’ll at least see Oliver and Lena one more time each. Oliver will be taking me to the airport on Friday (we’ll be leaving Hannover on Thursday to get closer to Düsseldorf to be there in the morning of the flight) and Lena will come too unless she has to do something for her studies. If she can’t join us though, she said she’d meet me one afternoon in Hannover to say goodbye. I don’t even want to think about that right now.

On Saturday we had to get up relatively early (9:00) to get ready to go on a climbing-trip that Lena’s friend Simone had organized over a month before. Simone is the same woman who organized the two “Grünkohlwanderung”s I went on, but this time she wanted to try something different and set up a time-slot for us to go to one of these giant climbing things that look like oversized jungle-gyms. It’s where a lot of businesses send their employees to have these “team-building exercises” and that’s what our group of about 12 people would be doing in spite of the fact that we’re not a “team” of any kind and all that binds us together is that we all know Simone or someone who knows Simone.

Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to it all that much. When I got up at 9:00 after a night of many beers, I went out to walk Oliver’s dog (also very sad to think that was the last time I’d do that) and all I could think was how the last thing I felt like doing was climbing up a giant wall with a big group of people.

We drove into Hannover to pick up a couple of other girls who decided to join, and then another half-hour or so to the southwest of Hannover in a region called the “Deister” which in comparison to the extreme flatness Hannover could be called “mountainous” but really it’s just a lot of hills. It was a very nice area though, and we were hoping for good weather. The morning was nice and sunny but the clouds had rolled in by the time we got there and the forecast called for a chance of rain or even thunderstorms.

Some navigational difficulties made us the last to arrive, but when we got there I immediately recognized a few faces from the Grünkohlwanderungs. In addition to Simone were the lovely Inge and her boyfriend-recently-turned-husband Matthias, and four or five others whose faces I remember but whose names I’ve forgotten. There was going to be a BBQ at Simone’s place after the climbing, and I was looking forward to that more than the climbing itself, so my attitude at the very beginning was very much along the lines of “let’s just get this over with.”

Before we did any actual climbing, there was about an hour of team-building exercises. There was one girl who worked there named Sybille who was in charge of our group (there were a few other people there but no other big groups) and she led us to a big wooden log on the grass and told us to line up on it. She then instructed us to rearrange ourselves in alphabetical order by first name, but we couldn’t get off the log because the grass was water in the Amazon, infested with crocodiles and other nasty things that would eat you if you fell in.

Right to left: Ana, Inge, me, Lena, Matthias, Moni, Oliver, um...

We managed to rearrange ourselves without too much trouble, but as we did she kept moving a pair of ropes on the edge of the log closer to each other (the log was sinking, you see) so we had to squeeze in closer and closer to each other. I’m sure this is highly effective team-building psychology: forcing the people to stand in uncomfortably close proximity to one another must help to create synergy.

Next we had to cross the treacherous Amazon waters to a wooden platform several meters away using only plastic beer crates, but Sybille kept kicking the crates away from us if we used them and then let go. Inge was the first to step out on the crates, and she brought one back over to the log. I’d been standing next to her on the log so I stepped out onto the one she brought, but I lost my balance and “fell in the water”. Sybille didn’t see, and while I was perfectly willing to be “dead” and just watch the rest of the exercise from the side-lines, there was another girl there to assist and she told me to just get back on the crate and pretend it didn’t happen. Then Sybille decided to make things even more difficult and she tied a bandana around Simone’s legs and around mine. “Are you kidding me?” I thought, figuring there was no way I could possibly get across now, but Inge figured out that by keeping two crates right next to each other and both of us moving to one at the same time, she could slowly but surely get me to the platform before going back to help the others.

Getting there... Hmmm...

Eventually we all got to the platform, which was teetering on another wooden log, our objective being to shift our balance of weight so that the platform wouldn’t hit the ground on either side for fifteen seconds. We had a very difficult time with this until I suggested we all stand as close to the middle as possible, at which point we made it for about twelve seconds but apparently that was enough.

Then we had to get across the crates again to a patch of dirt which was also safe-ground, and there was a wall of ropes resembling a spider’s web. Our next task was to get everyone through the ropes without touching them or re-using any of the openings. The group just kind of stood there dumbfounded for a moment, not having any idea how this could be done, but I think I’ve done something like this before (I can’t for the life of me remember where—possibly a Boy Scout trip when I was young) but I seemed to intuitively know what to do. We first had to get a couple of people through the ropes at the bottom with them crawling on their hands and some of us lifting the rest of their bodies up from the back, at which point they could then help others by lifting them from the front. We did this quite successfully, but of course the last two people through had to be blind-folded to make it more interesting.

With that finished I was finally able to un-bind my legs, but now all of us except for Oliver had to be blind-folded and standing in a line with our hands on the person’s shoulders in front of us, and Oliver had to lead us from behind only by tapping on the person’s shoulders in front of him to signal which way we had to turn, and that person would tap the person in front of them and so on until the signal reached the front and the whole group turned accordingly. That was a rather annoying task, but we eventually got to where we were going: a solid wooden wall that we all had to get over.

Once again, I knew exactly what to do because I’d done this sort of thing before, either in Boy Scouts or for high school gym class. I asked someone else to help me lift a guy up by the legs so he could get over the wall, and then he could help raise everyone else up while we continued lifting them by the legs. We got over in an extremely short amount of time, the girl who was in charge seemed quite impressed, and then it was finally time for the last exercise which involved getting us all across a couple of tightropes arranged in the shape of a triangle. I’d done this before as well so I went first to show others what to do (you just hold the hands of a person on the other rope and the next people hold onto you and so on) and we again finished in a very short amount of time.

By then I was already enjoying myself more than I thought I’d be, and after a fifteen-minute break I was ready for the actual climbing. Sybille equipped us all with the proper gear, showed us how to put it on and checked that we had it right, then brought us over and gave a little run-down of the proper safety procedures. She knew I spoke English so she’d occasionally translate for me, but during that part Inge translated for me, revealing for the first time to me that her English is actually quite superb.

Sybille preparing Oliver. Strapping myself in. Do I really want to go up there?Inge's not so sure either. 

Everyone needs a partner for the climbing, so Oliver and I paired up. We first had to climb a fifteen-meter wall with little color-coded climbing-nubs arranged in three rows: yellow was easy, blue was moderate and red was difficult. With me spotting him from the ground, Oliver first attempted the red path but it proved too difficult (you have to actually lift yourself up by the fingertips) so he switched to the blue wall and went the rest of the way up that path. Oliver mentioned before we went that he’s a little afraid of heights, so I was quite impressed by him for making it up there, as well as everything he did at the top. Another girl spotted me while I climbed up the blue path, and while I’ve never climbed up one of these sorts of walls before it all came perfectly naturally. I used to love climbing trees and monkey-bars when I was a kid, and this whole apparatus was like a mega-sized monkey-bars for adults.

                      Inge on the easy path.    Oliver attempting the difficult path.

But on those jungle-gyms as a kid you’d play by using your imagination. Up on this beast you didn’t need your imagination. It was enough of an adrenaline rush to be up so high and walking across various sorts of obstacles. We all had ropes with hooks that we had to carefully attach to the wires that ran above every obstacle, so there was no danger of falling to your death but it was still a rather nerve-wracking experience.

There were enough obstacles so that our whole group could be up there at once and still not have to wait too often for others to finish, but watching others get across was almost as fun as getting across yourself. Describing what these obstacles were like would be tedious and pointless.

Oliver on the trickiest obstacle.  Simone walking on air. Flying high. Look mom, no hands!

The most nerve-wracking obstacle though was simply a gap of about one meter between one little platform and another. Sybille kept egging me on to do the most difficult challenges, and when I got to that one she insisted I jump across without relying on my safety ropes (which people could easily cheat by holding on to while making the jump). “Just imagine there’s a beautiful woman on the other side” she said. I had no choice but not to chicken-out, and I figured if these platforms were a meter apart but right on the ground I wouldn’t think twice about it. The only different between them being one meter above the ground and fifteen meters was psychological. I hopped across successfully, and even convinced Oliver to do the same.

We spent maybe an hour and a half up there altogether, and the weather was very weird the whole time. The sun shined for a few minutes, then the clouds came back, sometimes it started raining a little, then the sun would come out again, and on and on. It was actually quite cool for being up there, to have wind, sun, and a little rain all mixed together. Though there were thunderstorms happening in the distance, luckily none of them hit us directly.

The final thing to do was climb a post up to a platform 25 meters high and slide down a long rope to the bottom. Sybille was waiting for us up there to get us connected right and send us on our way. Leaping off that platform and just letting gravity take you down was quite a thrill, and I’m glad one of Lena’s friends was there with her camera to take pictures of the people sliding down. I ended up being the last one off, and then Sybille slid down after me.

View from the bottom.Lena on her way down. Oliver on his way down. Me on my way down.

We still had about an hour left by the time we were all on the ground, and we used it to give everyone a turn on this big swing-thing where your friends pull on a rope to lift you up, then the rope detaches when you’re at the top and sends you swinging back-and-forth. A big thrill for the first few seconds, and then surprisingly relaxing as you rock gently back and forth.

Eventually it was time to go, and all of us were clearly in great spirits after that experience. Oliver also remarked that it had been way more enjoyable than he expected. I certainly had a much better time than I thought I would, which looking back I think is rather silly. Of course it was going to be a great time—it’s just a bunch of frequent doses of adrenaline pumped you’re your brain over and over again. The thrill of conquering fear, of making it across the obstacle, of jumping off the super-tall platform, and so on. When it’s over, you feel like you can conquer anything.

The wind-up. The swinging.

The relaxing. Moo

Sybille told us when it was over that we were one of the best groups she’s had. And just as we were all thinking, “she probably says that to every group” she insisted that she really meant it with this group and then explained how we were different than most groups. I could imagine if most of the groups she does are business-teams, this loose collection of friends and acquaintances who were only there for a good time might have been better.

So after that great experience it was time to go to the BBQ at Simone’s which after a bit of a round-about trip to drop off the girls from Hannover at the train station and check out a nearby location from Oliver’s past, we got there and found everyone from the climbing-trip as well as a few others at Simone’s place. I’d expected to enjoy the BBQ more than the climbing, but I was so dehydrated and so sick of beer from the night before that I just started off drinking water and only had two beers the whole evening. As such I didn’t get as outgoing as I’m capable of and mostly talked only to Oliver and Lena. But being in a big group they were mostly talking to others, always in German, and I found my mind wandering quite often.

Real-life German BBQ!

During dinner I was sitting next to a couple of guys whom I eventually realized were gay once they started kissing each other in front of everyone. I thought that was fantastic—not so much for them but for the group. It’s my understanding that most Germans are pretty intolerant about that sort of thing, but here was a group of about fifteen Germans and the gay guys could be openly gay in front of everyone without anyone seeming to have a problem with it.

 Simone's man talking at length about watermelon.There are literally over ten pictures of this. Boyfriends :) Simone and Inge sipping schnapps.

At one point, one of the guys there got us all in a circle for a little game he invented (or stole from somebody else) to test our “social competence”. He handed us all a piece of paper with a number that had to be kept secret. When he called out our number we’d have to fall and the people standing next to us would have to catch us—typical trust-building exercise. He called 6 and Simone went down and I and the person to the other side of her had to catch her. Then he called 5 and Oliver went down. Then he called 8 and everyone else went down, because everyone else had the number 8. That was pretty clever and we all had a good laugh.

After that Oliver and Lena decided it was time to go. I said goodbye to a few people there including Simone, making sure to thank her for the great time. She said the next time we see each other will probably be the next Grünkohlwanderung, but alas it’s highly unlikely I’ll be around for any more of those.

Oliver and Lena were heading back to Celle but they didn’t want to drop me off at my flat because you need a special ticket to drive in the city of Hannover and they were worried about getting caught without one. We had to drive by the E.ON building in Mühlenberg so I said they could drop me off there and I’d take the same tram home that I used to take several times a week.

They pulled into the parking lot near the station and got out to wish me goodbye. I wasn’t sure if this was the last time I’d see Lena, but she assured me that if she can’t help take me to the airport this week she’ll definitely meet up with me before then. Still, we hugged each other tightly and even got a little teary. The real goodbye is going to be very difficult.

So I said goodbye and took the tram back from Mühlenberg to Waterloo station near my flat, which was weird because I’d thought the previous Thursday—my last day of work—would be the last time I’d see that E.ON building or ride that tram. But I knew last night that it really would be the last time I rode the tram in Hannover.

Not wanting to sink straight back into my couch after such a big day, I did a little cycling as twilight turned to night, and went to bed relatively early to recharge more of the energy I’ve been expending. Now it’s my last Sunday in Germany, and once I get this blog entry done I intend to enjoy it to the fullest.

I always try to live for the moment, but in these “final-stretch” periods of my life it becomes downright necessary to appreciate every last second to the fullest, and knowing the end is near makes it easier.

How to Fix America (In 3 Paragraphs)

July 5th, 2011 No comments

On the surface, the problems affecting America appear so varied and complex that it seems absurd to suggest there’s one quick fix. But when you get down to the core it’s actually very simple, and can be explained in very few words and in such a way that almost all people can agree on regardless of ideological background. We’re not going to get anywhere until we can brush our disagreements aside and engage with each other honestly about the heart of the matter. In the following 3 paragraphs I will identify the problem and state how we can fix it. The bold-faced sections can actually stand alone as the entire argument, but I’ve buttressed these points with brief examples and explanations. None of this will be new to anyone, but its obviousness is the whole point—if I can explain it so succinctly, anybody can. My hope is that more people will reach out to those who normally disagree with them and see if we can at least agree on this.

2527780-dollar-symbol

1. The root of the problem is that some people can make incredible sums of money by doing things that harm everybody else. Investment bankers can earn huge amounts of money by inflating financial bubbles which collapse economies when they inevitably burst, energy companies earn higher profits by not spending money to protect the environment, insurance companies profit by denying people treatment, prisons profit by taking in more prisoners, and so on. This is not necessarily due to greed—it’s simply the nature of a business to try and earn as much money as possible, and to use that money to ensure that it can continue doing the things which allow it to keep earning.

2. The secondary problem is that our political system depends on campaign contributions from private donors to fund political campaigns. Politicians have a much easier time seeking large contributions from a handful of big businesses than by attempting to amass large amounts of small donations from average citizens. In order to be competitive, politicians must take money from businesses which profit by harming society. In exchange for these contributions, the politicians agree to either fight to protect the ability of these businesses to continue profiting at society’s expense, or to at least not fight very hard to stop them. As a result, the problems caused by these businesses are never fixed, and the negative effects on average people continue to accumulate.

3. Before any of America’s problems can be fixed, this central problem must be tackled first. Money must be taken out of politics if there can be any hope of politicians acting in society’s best interests as opposed to the interests of those who fund their campaigns. As long as the banking sector supplies most of the campaign money to politicians on both sides of the aisle, we can’t expect politicians to honestly reform the banking sector. As long as our politicians take money from private insurance companies, we can’t expect them to honestly reform the health care system. As long as politicians take money from energy companies, we can’t expect them to honestly work to protect the environment. These companies should have a seat at the table, but they can’t own the table. If we want politics to be about finding real solutions to problems, campaigns must be publicly financed so that politicians are elected on the merits of their ideas as opposed to how much money they can raise. Government should be the tool with which society fixes its problems, but problems can’t be fixed with a broken tool. The only way to fix the tool is to get money out of politics. Explaining how we do that, unfortunately, would require a lot more paragraphs…

A Dose of Night-Life

July 2nd, 2011 No comments

It occurred to me yesterday that it was the second-to-last Friday I’d be in Germany, so perhaps I ought to behave like a normal human being in his youth and go out. I checked the internet to see what was going on at all the clubs around and it looked like my best bet was a “Nuller Party” at the Faust, a music club about a 15-minute walk from my flat and right along the river where I go jogging. This is apparently the new thing now—in the last decade, 90s parties—where the DJ plays only music from the 90s—became very popular, and now they’re already doing the same thing with music from the 00s, a decade which somehow went by without ever getting an official name in English, but in Germany I suppose they settled on the “Nulls” and hence the “Nuller Party”.

Only photo taken, just before leaving.

After spending a few hours working up a buzz, I left my flat shortly before 11:00 when the website said this thing was supposed to start. The sun had only gone down about an hour earlier and the sky hadn’t completely darkened yet, so it felt much earlier than it was. But when I got to the club there was nobody inside. I don’t know why I hadn’t realized that if the entry started at 11:00 most people would actually get there later, but because I’d aimed to be there at 11:00 exact I ended up being the very first person to arrive.

A couple of hot German girls came in shortly after me, and though I stood next to them at the bar while ordering myself a beer, they neither spoke to or even made eye-contact with me. Of course I considered approaching them but there was this über-bitch aura radiating from them which is sadly quite typical of young German girls. These were the quintessence of young German bitches, and I felt like I could sense the cruelness of their hearts through the thin layer of surface beauty they possessed, so I didn’t try to talk to them.

I went up to the coat-check counter and asked the girl there when things usually got started at this place, and she said between 1:00 and 2:00. Ah, I thought, now I remember why I never go out. It was already past my normal bed-time of 11:00 and the party wasn’t even going to really get started for another couple hours.

I went outside and walked over to the Gretchen, a beer garden next to the Faust, and asked a woman working there the same thing I’d asked the coat-check girl, and she confirmed what was said. She was nice and she spoke English to me when it was apparent my German was bad, and when I ran out of things to say and walked away she said it was “a pleasure to meet me.” This woman was like the polar opposite of the girls in the club—clearly a wonderful human being on the inside but utterly unremarkable in terms of physical appearance. Why does it always have to be like that?

Anyway, I went to one of the tables outside near where others were sitting (the beer-garden was not as empty as the club) and sat down to roll up a cigarette. A young kid sat down on the other side of the table from me and asked if he could bum a smoke, so I happily obliged his request as his friend came with a freshly-ordered pizza from the food-stand there and sat down on the other side of the table. We got to talking and I ended up spending the next hour with them, and while it’s a fun little anecdote I’m afraid it’ll have to be edited out of the public part of this entry. If you’ve got access to private entries you might want to scroll down now and read the unabridged version.

They were young German boys all of 16 years old, the kind of kids I normally look at with reflexive disdain because they just seem like dumb little punks. But I was in good spirits and they seemed friendly enough so I engaged them in some conversation and told them about how I’ve been teaching English here for a few years and would be going back to America in two weeks. I guess they don’t meet people with quite as interesting a story very often so they quickly warmed up to me and wanted to hear more, particularly about the way things are in America. Ever since Cristiano suggested it in Rome I’ve been telling everyone I’m from New York, so they thought this was extra-awesome because New York City is one of the places they’ve always dreamed of going. The kid who bummed the smoke from me was even wearing a Yankee cap.

I liked these kids, and talking to them reminded me of talking to my younger brother and his friends whenever I’m back home in NJ. They also got major points in my book by attempting as much as they could to speak English to me, even though I was doing my best to speak German. The whole conversation was a weird mixture of English and German, often with words from both languages in the same sentence.

They learned a lot about America from me and I learned a little about what teenage boys in Hannover are like, and when we were finished talking they went home and I went back to the club. They said they were lucky to have met me, so I felt pretty good on my way back in, now feeling like anybody I might meet would indeed be lucky to meet me.

Back in the club it was now about half-past midnight and there were more people there but still no one dancing. I ordered a ridiculously over-priced water to get myself hydrated, then migrated to the back of the dance floor to do a little subtle dancing to the decent-but-far-from-great music that was playing. I was pretty buzzed at this point and seriously considered just letting loose on the empty dance-floor without caring at all how silly I’d look to everyone, but I apparently wasn’t quite buzzed enough for that.

So I went back to the bar and ordered a whiskey on the rocks (my current favorite drink) and the guy said it would have to be in a plastic cup, but if I wanted a glass I could just go to the bar at the smoking lounge in the back. I decided to check out the smoking lounge and discovered that there were even more people in there than out in the main area of the club. It was—as you might expect—pretty smoky in there, but not too bad.

I ordered my whiskey on the rocks (amused to see it served in a plastic cup anyway) and took the only empty barstool there between a couple of guys who were also there alone. I sipped from my drink and scanned the room, trying to determine which of these small groups of Germans sitting in the couches in the back looked to be the most promising to approach. As is usually the case with crowds of Germans, none of the groups seemed very approachable at all, which was another reminder of why I don’t go out very often.

I didn’t really want a cigarette, but in the spirit of “when in Rome” I figured I might as well smoke since I was here in the smoking lounge. I took out my tobacco and started to roll one up, and that’s when the guy sitting to my right spoke to me. He asked me if I had any filters, as apparently he had tobacco and papers but no filters. So once again smoking was the cause of my meeting someone. I wonder how non-smokers ever meet people. Seriously—I might give up the habit if it wasn’t so damned useful. 

So this guy—who looked exactly like Ron Livingston, star of the movie Office Space and Nixon The spitting image.from Band of Brothers—quickly realized my German wasn’t native and asked me where I was from, and seemed just as pleasantly surprised as the kids from earlier that I was from America (and New York in particular). It turned out he wasn’t a native German either but was actually a Russian, born in St. Petersburg and whose family migrated to Germany as soon as the Berlin wall came down. He said that the fall of the Berlin wall was the most significant historical event of his lifetime and that if that hadn’t happened he would still be in Russia right now. He’d moved here when he was 9, and was now 26. His family is scattered around Germany but apparently he also has an aunt and uncle in Brooklyn, thus providing even more evidence of my friend Mike’s theory that Brooklyn is the center of the universe.

The guy’s name was Jevgeny, and he struggled to speak English to me throughout our whole conversation and while he kept apologizing for how shitty his English was, I thought he was doing just fine. He was deeply curious about America because he never gets to speak to actual Americans. That’s one of the great things about Hannover—it’s not a tourist city so Americans are a rare commodity, and people treat a conversation with you like a rare opportunity. He said that he had a perception of Americans as very stupid and closed-minded, and while he made sure to explain that he wasn’t talking about me, I took no offense because as I explained, most Americans are stupid and closed-minded. He told me a story about someone he knew who was an exchange student in Kentucky, and the family he stayed with kept asking him about Nazis and whether Hitler was secretly still alive. I had to admit that it’s true—when most Americans hear “Germany” they immediately think of Nazis and Hitler—but people on the coasts and in the cities tend to be more sophisticated than these hicks in places like Kentucky.

I was happy to disabuse him of the notion that all Americans are morons, and he complimented me more than once on my intelligence. That’s one great thing about being an American abroad—people judge you by extremely low standards so they’re impressed by you simply for not being a drooling idiot. He had a lot of questions about America and I was happy to explain things to him, particularly about the political situation because most Europeans have no idea that Obama is really just a puppet dangling from the same strings as Bush and Clinton before him.

But I also learned some very interesting things from Jevgeny. He works at a small grocery store in the south of Hannover, and while he didn’t say so explicitly he basically implied that he’s got connections. Apparently all Russians in Germany have some kind of ties to organized crime, and he said that it comes with positives and negatives. The downside is that when Germans find out he’s a Russian, they immediately back away and don’t want to talk to him. On the plus side, nobody fucks with him. He told me that if anyone came up and started shit with me while we were sitting there, he’d punch him in the face without fear of retaliation.

He also seemed concerned that he might be intimidating me, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. And he kept saying that I could go any time and he didn’t want to keep me there, but I explained that this was the whole reason I came out—to meet and talk to interesting people. Jevgeny was a very interesting guy. One of the most fascinating things I learned from him is that with his German passport he’s free to go anywhere in Europe except his home country of Russia. When he goes back, they stop him at the airport because apparently all Russians are supposed to serve in the military and he hasn’t, so he has to bribe them every single time to keep from being sent to the army.

Eventually, Jevgeny went home and just like the kids from earlier told me that he felt lucky to have met me, which never stops feeling nice.

Now it was finally time to go to the club area and do some dancing, as the dance-floor was now full of people. I downed another expensive mineral water, then proceeded to weave my way through the crowd and dance to a bunch of unrecognizable songs (I didn’t do mush listening to the radio during the 00s) and see if any of the groups of Germans might be approachable, or better yet if there were any attractive girls I could attempt to flirt with. I was at maximum-confidence, truly believing that any woman I approached would be lucky for the chance to meet me, but things didn’t work out that way.

None of girls so much as made eye-contact with me, and all the attractive ones were dancing with their boyfriends anyway. It’s the same story whenever I go to a dance club—the girls are either taken or totally not into me—and it was one final reminder of why I never go out. Even when I’m smiling, having a good time, and radiating confidence, I just can’t seem to attract anyone. But fuck German girls anyway. There are of course many many exceptions, but generally speaking they’re almost all a bunch of stuck-up bitches. I think I’ve been better off during my three years here for having not had my life complicated by one.

After giving up on meeting anyone new, and quite satisfied at the socialization I’d already had, I went to the coat-check counter to retrieve my jacket and go home. There was a slight problem—the little token they gave me had apparently fallen out of my pocket, and the girl there (typical stuck-up German bitch) gave me this whole, “sucks to be you” attitude like there was absolutely nothing she could do to help me. She told me to wait an hour for people to start going home. Right, like I’m really going to wait until everyone else has gotten their coat before I can get mine and go. I obstinately stayed at the counter and she finally relented. I  described my jacket to her and told her that I could prove it was mine because there was a camera in my pocket with some pictures of me in it. She found the coat, found the camera, and handed it to me. Luckily I still had some pictures of me from the last time I was in Celle, and I showed her one of me with Oliver’s dog and she laughed and gave me my coat back.

It was now past 4 a.m. and during my walk home the sky began to get brighter as the sun was already rising. I’d literally been out from dusk until dawn, but in Germany during the summer that’s not a very long time at all.

So that was my nice little night out. I’m quite glad I did that, and while I’ve got no desire to drink or go out again tonight, I’m sure I’ll have myself a few more nights like that before I leave.