The Bonfire

Another block party has come and gone in my neighborhood, although it's actually held in a field behind the backyards of our block. The focal point is a moderate sized bonfire about 30 feet from the alley which cuts through the block and has no outlet. I'm always drawn to the mesmerizing flames of the fire. Entire conversations can be held without ever looking away. The site is somewhat private except that over half of the partiers are from other parts of town. All are welcome, just bring some food.

This is our tenth year in the neighborhood and the gathering has no official name. Its been called the chili cookoff, the "bonfire", the chili party and one year flyers were sent out with something like The Fall East End Enclave Assemblage or something fancy like that. We all know what it is. Its a lot of fun.

A couple of garages half way down the alley serve as food stations. One has a table full of crock pots plugged into power cords and all lined up with chili, soups, sauerkraut and kelbasi, and other good stuff in them. The other side is lined with desserts and casserole dishes and there is never enough room for everything so it gets piled up wherever it will fit. There is cold beer for the drinking adults or BYOB, and soda for the kiddies. The other garage is where the older folks gather. Most of the visitants gather around the bonfire which is surrounded by benches and lawn chairs. Moose brought a cord of wood and stated one rule, "If you get cold, throw another log on the fire."

The younger kids like to play spotlight; tag with a flashlight. The older ones are fueling growth spurts. The adults are just glad to be there. Time to get caught up on everybody's business. I made three trips to the food garage and then wandered into the other garage since there was close to 75 people around the fire. There were three thermoses of coffee on a table cloth covered table with white styrofoam cups, nice and neat. I asked which one was the high-test since Decaf coffee to me is like non-alcoholic beer, what's the point? They were all regular coffee. The deer bologne and kraut, among other tasty delights had left me parched. That coffee really hit the spot. I was given a chair with a cushion and sat down with my favorite older neighbor, who is friends with my dad, and one of his closest friends and we chewed the fat until ten o'clock.

I usually end up sitting around the fire until the wee hours but I was beat. I was up before six (on a Saturday!) to get my son off to a cross country invitational which I drove to a couple hours later. We didn't get home until mid afternoon. I ran a few miles myself. I did some work around the house until the party got underway at dusk. My wife made our chili. I was all set to make a killer hot batch with some habanaro peppers that I got from a guy at work. He was trying to sucker someone into eating one as had happened to him the year before. I cut one up and put it on a sandwich. He was grinning like a demon as I chewed a couple of bites. I said, "ya, those are pretty hot."

My mouth was burning very bad but I stayed cool as could be. I've had a lot of hot stuff before but never anything like this. It was "Oh-my-God-HOT". I finished the sandwich since the damage was already done. I licked below my lower lip without thinking and even that burned for over an hour. I think if you ate a habanero a day you would never be sick. The neighbors will have to wait until next year though for that. I was home and in bed by midnight. I could still hear the occasional peals of laughter from the fireside before I fell asleep.

Somedays you wake up and everything's OK. Today was one of those days. But others you wake up and feel like shit, draged through the scum and spit out with a headache, that was all of last week.
Some weeks are better than others, thats all I can say.
Some days are better than others.
Right now I'm at peace with the world, but a little disturbed. Of course I'm always disturbed. But in varrying ways. Somedays it's worse than others. Right now that my only advice.
Today I woke up with a throat that feels like raw meat, screaming with pain. This the beggining of the second week of my cold, first week was sore throat, flu symtoms, and then stuffy nose and cogh. The cogh got me another sore throat, this one the kind that makes your voise croky, and Tom Waitsish. It hurt bad, but I'm working on its death.
The worst thing is the nasty snot nose, which I hate. It will all be over soon, I hope. THis is one long ass cold, which seems intent on doing everything it can. Die DIE stupid cold...
Events in the news and close to home - what shall I believe, and how shall I feel?

While at a conference recently I watched a lot of CNN Headline News. That often happens. By choice, I live without TV, and when I get into a hotel room by myself I usually flick the box on and start watching. These days the two main long-term stories have been the sniper at large in the Maryland county where I live, and the inexorable movement toward war with Iraq.

Compared with the quality of news you can get from the sources I prefer - including National Public Radio, the BBC, and some newspaper Internet sites, Headline News makes a very poor showing. It is shallow and saturated with advertising. I feel embarrassed when I watch it - what must foreigners think about Americans when they see this? I sometimes tell foreign-born friends not to draw too many conclusions from such things. Am I really just trying to reassure myself? No, I think most people in the US are more intelligent than you would believe just by watching the news here. In the same way that sitcoms show what we want to be shown rather than the way we actually live, the news shows what we're willing to watch rather than what we actually believe. Or so I have persuaded myself.


What can I make of the Iraq business? Certainly it's crucial that a troupe of international inspectors get back in and stay in, and that won't be achieved without military pressure. Mandela's comments a month ago made me laugh. He talks as though the UN were some sort of world government. Pah! He achieved much as a symbol of the anti-apartheid movement, but he's deluded if he thinks the UN can accomplish anything by itself. The threat of war is almost the only thing that can drive diplomacy. The trouble is, you can't drive diplomacy forever without eventually fighting if diplomacy fails. But is it actually worth starting a real war in Iraq? The answer to that depends on having access to accurate information about the true situation in Iraq. But how do you get that? From CNN?

Among the Internet news sites I periodically read is DEBKAfile. Debka is based in Israel and sometimes gets startling scoops, but at other times just reports rumors that turn out not to be true. (To its credit, Debka usually removes stories that turn out not to be true.) Well, Debka has been saying since at least August that the war actually began quietly last Spring and has been waged in a low-key way since then. Saudi bases are said to be in regular use, in spite of the Kingdom's public refusals to be involved. Today Debka says Iranian forces are fighting in Sulimaniyeh, in northern Iraq, along with US and Turkish troops. Can it be true? Why isn't it in any of the serious papers I read? But if it isn't true, then why has Debka been reporting this sort of thing all these weeks? They depend on income from their more expensive news services, and can't let their reputation go to seed reporting nonsense.

What is the meaning of "news" when it encompasses both Headline News and DEBKAfile? And what part of all this news are you supposed to use to make decisions on whether to fight a war?


The other big story has been the sniper shooting people, evidently at random, in the area around Washington D.C. He hasn't struck in our neighborhood yet, although I shouldn't be too smug. We're east of I-95 and he mainly shoots people west of I-95, although since this has been observed publicly he may well try to confound the police. However, to this New Yorker the whole thing feels rather overblown. I was a young teenager in the days of "Chop-off Charlie", and this is a lot less frightening than that. Without a TV I don't hear about it endlessly and so I'm not caught up in the community's reaction. I actually feel far removed from the whole thing - the community as well as the murders - and can't in the remotest way empathize with the people who are changing their behavior in fear of what may happen. It looks to me as though the news is not having a neutral effect on the sniper's behavior, because he is clearly reacting to what they report about him. He only shot a student after the media began screaming about whether the schools were safe.

I don't feel smug, and should try not to give that impression. He may well strike me down on my morning walk tomorrow, but in truth I feel no fear or dread, and if my walk fails to take place it will be because of laziness.


A good friend, a professor at Portland State University, was the teacher of at least one of the young men recently charged in Oregon with being part of an al-Qaeda cell. My friend, a totally apolitical person, a humble and soft-spoken Mormon, was interviewed and said that he didn't know anything about the student's affiliations but had found him serious and gentle. Now my friend has been latched onto by the media as a sort of supporter of the purported cell-members. Then he was carried nationally on FOX, and after that began receiving hate phone calls. It's all rather amazing to me. (The only time any relative of mine got a hate phone call was when my grandfather pointed out a factual error in a local rabbi's column in the Providence Jewish Herald, and the rabbi called in the middle of the night and insulted him using a disguised voice.) Are the students guilty? How would a professor like me know that? When I ran a study abroad program for a year, I had the chance to compare professors' letters of recommendation to the actual personalities and deportment of the students they were describing. In many cases I could only gape at the lack of insight my colleagues had. As a professor, should you put your good name at stake for a student you barely know?

This is the same question as what to believe about Iraq and how to feel about a murderer in one's neighborhood. Is the answer the same?


While I was at the conference came the bomb attack on Bali. Clearly the terrorists do not understand how much less international opposition they would face if they confined themselves to attacking US targets within the US. They don't see that because they are basically fanatics, and so they define their enemies broadly (Hindus, oil companies, secular governments, etc. etc.) rather than narrowly (only the US government and the world's Jews). As a Jew in the US, and as a confirmed believer in "cosmopolitanism", I'm certainly glad they're screwing up like this. But I hope the US government is able to avoid making that same mistake. Judging from Bush's frequent comments to the effect that the terrorists are betraying the soul of Islam, it seems he has advisors who are actively trying to define the US's enemies as narrowly as possible. If they can manage that, well, I believe things will turn out more or less all right.


The external world I read and hear of in the news seems, in the end, remote. Only a few other things feel to me immediate. Music is one of them. I have written this while listening to a 4-CD set of Handel's keyboard music. There are some popular pieces in the set, but a lot of it is almost never heard. What a brilliant composer he was! It's hard to believe that for most of the first 200 years after his death, his active repertoire was limited to Messiah and a few popular opera transcriptions - the largo from Xerxes, and so on. But to those who know, he is a force of the universe. Beethoven, on his deathbed, said, "Handel is the greatest and ablest of all composers; from him I can still learn." Verbum sapienti sat est.


last day-log entry: September 8, 2002 | next: January 26, 2003

Water makes me wake up more than caffeine

I discovered this late last night/early this morning. I was running at the end of my rope trying to finish up my homework that was due the next day. I had a liter of Mountain Dew: Code Red that I was inhaling, not literally of course, but it was doing no good. I finally decided what I needed was a nice large mug of water.

I went to the kitchen and poured myself a cold glassful. I returned to my workstation, and took a few gulps. It woke me up right away. I decided to share my discovery with some of my friends via trillian.

I found out immediately never to use the following three words in a conversation if you want to keep communicating with the receiving party: I love agua. For some reason as soon as I typed this they signed off and didn't come back.

The moral of the story is: Don't procrastinate.

Ya know, I find myself starting to daylog with alarming frequency…

I have to preface this by saying that my kid (she turns eight next week) knows that I like to write stuff here on E2 and probably thinks that its what I do for a living. She often asks questions about what this place is all about and I often find myself hard pressed to give an accurate description of what goes on here. I try and tell her that E2 encompasses people from all walks of life with different back rounds and experiences and that the subject matter covered here runs the gamut of just about, well, everything. I think it has sparked her interest. Anyway, on with the story that is the impetus for this daylog…

When I pick her up from school, a typical conversation might go something like this:

Me: “So how was your day?”

Her: “Fine”

Me: “ So what did you do?”

Depending on her day, I’m either regaled with stories of schoolyard games and pranks or more often than not, the dreaded “Nothin.”

If the dreaded “Nothin” is forthcoming, I’ll usually try and either ask some open ended questions or switch the subject to something like “What did you learn today?”

Again, depending on her day, she’ll either describe (in great detail) all of the subjects covered at school that day or I might (once again) be the recipient of the dreaded “Nothin”

A few minutes of silence usually ensues

Her: “How was work today?”

Me: “Fine” (okay, that’s usually a lie but why trouble her with my woes)

Her: “What did you write about?”

I feel the need to interject. For those of you familiar with my efforts you can see they cover a wide range of topics. I claim to have no specialty and if I find a hole and the hole interests me, I’m inclined to try and fill it. (hmm, does that make me guilty of nodevertising?). That being said…

If I thought I contributed something worthwhile, I’ll usually describe my w/u in terms she can understand or tell her about something interesting that one of you fellow noders have contributed that might have affected me in some way. Moving on…

This weekend, she spent an awful lot of time in her room. I asked her what she was doing up there and got the dreaded “Nothin.” I decided to leave it at that.

Yesterday, after we got home from school and finished dinner and were about to settle in for the evening she asked me:

“Daddy, if I write something, will you put it out on E2 so other people can read it?”

I thought about it for a moment and figured, sure, why not? Chances are she’s not going to write anything and would just be happy that I made the promise.

Whoosh! She ran upstairs and came down about two minutes later with a sheath of papers.

In order to fulfill a promise made to my daughter, I now present to you the selected “poetry” of my eight year old kid. All spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors left intact. (sorry I can't replicate the penmanship)

Untitled

Jumping off the starway,
Laghing with joy,
In the air I go,
My feet leave the ground
For one moment,
I am flying
I touch the ground
And fly agen.

Untitled

As the sun sets at the end of time,
I’m understanding life,
But as I know,
The sun will rise and set agen

Blue Jay

Blue Jay screaming for help,
Blue Jay dessed in blue,
Blue Jay in the evergreen tree,
Blue Jay fly’s away on his wings.

Top of the Mounten

on top of the mounten covered in snow,
skyscrapers look like ants,
locking from here the sky is of baby blue

Untitled

the moon is upon the sky,
the sky is of pink and blue,
the geese fly,
the purple makes it night
the orange makes it day

In closing I’d like to add that I know that to some of you folks, this kinda stuff might seem trite. For that, I apologize. To me though, it brings a smile to my face and a warmth to my heart knowing that she isn’t upstairs wondering why she can’t play the latest rage in video games. (We don’t own any) She’s trying to be creative and the only way I can reward that is to both encourage it and to fulfill my promise to her. Sometimes “Nothin” can really be something.

Good thoughts go out to all family and friends, past, present and future.

Here are some good news for me, that I felt sharing with E2!

I just received an e-mail from my attendant professor at the university in which he informs me that today, at the official professor meeting I was accepted as a Phd student at my faculty!!! YUPPIIIIII!!!! I'm gonna be a Doctor!

This is the e-mail (it is in greek of course, written in greeklish) but anyway, I also give it translated below.

Zaxos:
H Gevikn Suveleusn tou Tmnmatos se epele3e ws upoynfio Didaktora.
Sugaxrntnria kai kaln douleia.
Pisteuw oti exeis tis duvatotntes va pareis to didaktoriko sou
stov elaxisto duvato xrovo, dnladn mesa se tria xrovia.
E3artatai apo to poso evtavtika 9a doulepseis.


Filika,
P.Papanikolaou


Translation

Zaxos:
The Official Professor Meeting of our department has accepted your
application for a Phd candidacy.
Congratulations and good work. I believe that you have the capability to finish with your doctorate
in the minimum possible time, i.e. in three years.
It depends on how intensive you are going to study.


P.Papanikolaou

PS. Submitting this writeup as the first thing I thought doing, after I received the good news stroke me as a little bit curious... What do you know... I love this place!

I did something quite out of character tonight.

And no, you wag, it's not just the daylog.

I peeked over the fence.

Now I don't know what you guys are doing at 2:32AM on a Wednesday morning, but I was just doing my regular thing - pottering around E2.
Apartment dwelling - especially inner city apartment dwelling has its advantages, but cabin fever is not one of them. Tonight I felt an over-whelming desire to get out - to see what was over the fence. But, around here, that isn't always so easy.

The corner of Sydney I live in may well be polite and pleasant around lunchtime, but it certainly isn't once the sun has gone down. It can get hellishly unpleasant at times. A pal of mine had his Audi A6 firebombed a few blocks away last Monday night. (It was a long weekend). And last month a guy was shot at for practicing golf in the park that adjoins my building. Trips out at night are quick and to the point - get out - get what you need - and get back. Well, here I am - getting out - at two-thirty in the morning, but I didn't need anything at all.

You got pretty much 3 directional choices for a midnight stroll around here. One is towards the city, but I head there each day so the allure of that path was thin. Another is south - towards Redfern - but hell - the street company is even worse there. East - towards Moore Park was about my only choice. Unfortunately, to reach Moore Park from Surry Hills, you need to transverse some pretty heavy-duty arterial roadway. Legging it east, on the normally car and semi-trailer clogged Cleveland Street, I got my first glimpse into why this wasn't going to be an ordinary stroll. The traffic eerily ceased - almost unheard of, except for this late time of night. Most crazed teens will already know this, but there is something amazingly uplifting and liberating about standing still in the middle of a road that in a few hours will turn you into paillard.

A few blocks along Cleveland and I was getting into somewhat nicer territory, but I was by no means out of the woods. Each stranger I passed had that same "...What the fuck are you doin at this time of night..." look on their face. Finally - after what seemed an edgy eternity - I reached South Dowling Street, the edge of Moore Park. For those of you that don't know Sydney, the transition from urban grime to immediate parkland that Moore and Centennial parks provide can be a tad alarming.

One second I am looking down dark and uninviting alleys, but cross that road and I am in a darkened expanse of parkland. The lingering street sounds start to fade into the background as I ease further and further into a very unlit, and potentially very dangerous park. I vividly recall this park from my childhood. It had steeply rising hills that fed grass skier's afternoons. It was always somewhere you drove past, but never explored on foot. Like all slopes appraised from a distance, the walk to the top took a surprisingly long time - It always seemed so much shorter a distance when I had been driven past as a child, but the view was amazing. Why had I not been here before? It dawned on me that I was in one of the most isolated parts of Sydney, yet I was a scant 2km from the centre. You see, roads and public planning has conspired to make this place a no-mans-land. Surrounded by major roads and traffic-distributing tunnels, it had become a difficult to get to oasis.

I sat at the top of the hill in Moore Park for a while, stared at the lights of the city, and rolled a cigarette. The thought that I was a good 10 minutes sprint from safety was dispersing, yet still at the back of my mind. I began to relax and take it all in.

then of course…

The automatic lawn sprinklers came on.

The straight route downhill was now blocked by cascades of water that showered seemingly from nowhere. I had to go further east, through a grove of Moreton Bay Fig trees, and its attendance of flying foxes. The new path did not look inviting. It was even less illuminated than the dark one I had taken to get there. On top of this, I realized that this may be good people's bedtime - but it's happy hour for flying foxes. They were everywhere - oppressively so. Flying overhead, squawking, screeching - darkness - bats.

You know what I did? I lay down - on the grass, stared, up through the wings of the flying mammals at the gray and ochre sky that industry had left me. I felt safe - I closed my eyes. Only metres away, countless muggings, robberies, murders, rapes and assaults had taken place - yet I felt safe. Oppressively, liberatingly so.

As I wandered home an hour or so later, to more "..who da fuck are you.." stares, the risks I had taken all became so clear. Crystal.

You may want to peek over your fence sometime

(Technically, this is a weekend node)

This weekend I visited Winnipeg to see my lovely significant other. I hadn't seen her for approximately four weeks, as she is starting her MLA program, and I am teaching high school 2200 kilometres away.

This is not significant.

I had two turkey dinners (it was Thanksgiving in Canada this past weekend, folks!), visited with family, saw her campus and working space, went out a few times, watched some movies.

This is not significant.

We made love several times. Those moments were tender, passionate, and damn refreshing. We held each other for hours into the dawn. She kissed my forehead. I kissed her earlobes.

This is not significant.

Sunday evening, after we had dinner at her father's house, we decided to rent a movie. After watching it and snacking on leftovers, we snuggled in for some sleep.

This is not significant.

I rolled over and tossed my arm around her torso. We stayed like that, silent, for about 15 minutes. Then I asked: "Would you like to be engaged while you're in school?"

This is not (very) significant. Pay attention now.

She answered: "It doesn't matter. But yeah, maybe I would."

See, with us, marriage is really not a big deal. We're happy as we are, and we know that a wedding and some paperwork won't change the relationship. Or so we thought. I don't know why I asked. She doesn't know why she answered like that. All I know is: when I ask her to marry me (bar any stupidity on my part) she'll probably say yes.

This is significant. I am growing up.

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