Monday, September 29, 2008

Shea goodbye... say hello again...

Last Thursday I took my second and final trip to Shea Stadium. And then I watched yesterday afternoon as they held closing ceremonies for the park... after the traditional collapse of the entire season.

It's funny, I haven't been following major league baseball for a long time, but going to the game brought back those really hopeless days of 1980. Those were the times when every game was broadcast on Channel 9, called by Ralph Kiner, Bob Murphy and Steve Albert, and when we weren't in school, my sister and I watched every inning. Given that the team finished the season with a 67-95 record, we gained a lot of character that summer.

And I never imagined I'd cry at seeing Craig Swan and Doug Flynn.

Monday, September 22, 2008

American culture pervades yet again...

It's a practice as old as war: occupation forces tend to impress their cultures on the the 'host' community, either intentionally or inadvertently. Consider, for instance, the broad appeal of SPAM in certain sectors invaded during World War II, and the bizarre cargo cults that still expect Jon Frum to return with washing machines and Coca Cola.

Most recently, the ultimate kitch has arrived in the Persian Gulf, as I discovered while shopping online for lawn ornaments. As you'll see
here, pink flamingos have made it to Iraq.

Now, I have to admit that I have been the proud owner of a pair of pink flamingos since college, when a friend and I conspired to litter the university president's lawn with them. For years, they held a place of honor in my bathroom, but more recently they've been nesting in my garage. I never once thought they could migrate to the Middle East as a morale builder for the troops. They're not really desert birds, after all --they subsist on shrimp and shellfish.

I wonder: what must the Iraqis be thinking of this? Do they curse the pink plastic birds, or do they honor them? Do they secretly covet them? Will the troops take them home when the US packs up, or will some of the petroleum Phoenicopteridae remain as invasive species? And the scariest question of all: will more flamingos start appearing in front of Iraqi homes?

And then what's next? Garden gnomes?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It doesn't pay to be crabby.

Incidentally, tomorrow, September 19, is Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nobody ever died for dear old Rutgers

(Okay, a little corny, but it's actually a song from a Broadway musical!)

Walter Seward, Rutgers class of 1917, passed away earlier this week. Check out the story in the
Rutgers Daily Targum. More to come from me later this week. Bottom line, you've gotta love a guy who can sing all the old school songs.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tell us how you really feel.

One of the things I like about working a job with 'global' responsibilities is the figures of speech you learn along the way. For someone with an ear for language, it can be a real treat.

At the outset, you have to remind yourself to assume positive intent. Take, for example, the Irish, who, when you say something favorable, will respond with a hearty "brilliant!" Having lived in the highly sarcastic New York area my whole life, I was inclined to believe the person was making fun of me, because what I'd said wasn't especially creative,
ingenious or original. Then I realized that the same person would exclaim, "brilliant," if I said I'd call them back in five minutes. So I let it go.

The Australians, appealing as their culture is, have especially colorful expressions, many of which you can't reason out for yourself, between the accent and the mix of what must be some sort of aboriginal-based slang. But they're generally nice enough to explain. Obviously, you have to be really careful, and if you're a little confused, it never hurts to ask for a little clarity. Though I did learn that it is definitely not a good idea to tell a British person that someone is walking around with a puss on their face. No, not good.

I can't imagine how many people I've confused with my habit of spouting spontaneous analogies. Seems the more frustrated or wound up I get, the more I'm inclined to come up with colorful ways to describe it. A lot of times, it's one a lot of people know, say, "Don't piss in my face and tell me it's raining." Others are a little more unique:
  • "Like wearing a ballgown to a barn raising" -- putting way too much fuss into a task that requires little attention and will generate little return.
  • "Being given crayons to paint the Sistine Chapel" -- being woefully underequipped to complete a mammoth task successfully and creatively.

Wow, now I forget the others. Anyway, when you're on a roll, it's hard sometimes to stop and explain to people for whom English is a second language. One of my coworkers once got a call from another colleague who was on a conference call with the both of us and got the full treatment. "What is this barn raising," he asked her, "and am I expected to dress up?" Oh, boy.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Hey Pacific Islanders....

Tell me where I should visit and what I should do if I do go to Micronesia in March!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Putting some distance between...

I've had an off-again, on-again desire to go to Micronesia for many years now, since I heard of the remote group of islands way, way west of Hawaii. I'd first learned about them when the PR firm I worked for started representing Continental Airlines, the operator of the only scheduled flight service to the region. Continental Micronesia does an island hop from its Guam hub to Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, Yap and Palau a couple of times a week. It's not like I was getting any travel out of the job -- just that it got me thinking, and reading. Then I found out that Yap has stone money, and that just made it even more intriguing. I've made trips for more ridiculous reasons than that, though this would be the farthest, distance wise.

The region also has a huge World War II history and is a renowned diving destination, given the sheer volume of wrecked warships. On land, several of the islands still show signs of habitation by military during the conflict -- old buildings, transport equipment rotting in place and so forth. I've always been fascinated by the use of these islands as strategic hopping points during the war. Who doesn't remember the stories of the old Japanese soldiers hiding in the jungles for years past the war, not knowing of the surrender? A couple of years ago, at the Millville Airport down Jersey, I came upon an old transport plane marked Kwajalein Atoll -- pictured here.

What's more, the culture, while influenced by the West, like everywhere else, is still going pretty strong, from what I understand. In any case, it's bound to be a lot different from New Jersey. And the wanderlust always seems to bring me back to who I really am, as opposed to who I find myself having to be far more often than I'd like. Gotta do something about that. Not that I have any illusions about going native, selling my wool coats, packing up the cats and heading to the Pacific. It's just getting away from the corporate thing. And being in an environment where random people are friendly, as a rule.

Being several hours (and the dateline) west of Hawaii, it's one of those places you'd better make the most of while you're there. Chances are you aren't going to go back anytime soon, at least from the mainland US. To get a sense of how air travel works in the region, take a look at this post from a fellow blogger who lives in the Marianas and chronicled an experience taking the Island Hopper.

Anyway, I finally decided that I want to take a couple of weeks off (at once!!!) in the spring and make a real trip someplace off the beaten track. This seems to do the trick, though I still have to seriously work out the timing of the travel and whether my aging body can manage the inevitable disorientation caused by a series of long flights and time zone leaps. After all, it would be a real bitch to get all the way there, end up with a weariness-induced migraine and nowhere to buy Motrin.

Hey, worst case scenario, I do ten days in Hawaii, and get to Molokai and Midway this time. If that's the consolation prize, I'm doing pretty well.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

What's changed?

Over the past few days we've seen a lot of history: the nomination of the first African American presidential candidate by a major political party and the first time the Republicans have selected a woman to run for vice president.

The thing that has really struck me, though, is that it's the first time that people of my generation have taken the national stage at this level. Barack Obama's just a few years older than I, Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin are my age. Somehow I find it amazing, given that I'm still grappling with the fact that I'm a grownup. It reminds me how little I've achieved, but that's another story.

Michelle Obama, especially, struck me. I first realized it a few months ago when there was all that tsimmis about the senior thesis she wrote at Princeton. She'd studied minority alumni of Ivy League schools and theorized that they tended to diverge from their ethnic communities following graduation. In reading about this, I found that when she was at Princeton, black students accounted for just about four percent of the population. There were 94 black students in her class. I was stunned: I was at Rutgers during those same years, and I saw that many black students on an average visit to the dining hall. What do you gain from being in an environment where everyone looks like you?

Even more shocking, her white roommate's mom had lobbied the deans to get her a new housing assignment. And what's disturbing now: the current Princeton student population is only about four percent black, though there is a higher percentage of students labelling themselves as 'other' on the question. So has anything really changed? You'd think that by now, an Ivy League school would be all about creating a learning environment that exposes students to different points of view and different backgrounds. You'd think.

I'm still trying to parse out my feelings on all of this, and I'm not especially eloquent on them. But I guess we're of a generation now where people don't care so much that a successful person is black. They might notice it, but it doesn't have the same impact it once did. And maybe to a point, it's gotten to where a successful black person isn't accused of playing white just because he or she has gotten somewhere in life. The old guard who, by necessity, had to fight harder because they were black, are now being succeeded by the people who were children then and are now benefitting from their elders' hard work.

We've seen the same thing with women; I get the feeling most of the time that the successful 20 and 30 somethings never even considered that they 'weren't supposed to' have what they have. Some would see that as ungrateful. I see it as progress. And to get elected, women don't have to wave the feminist flag and a liberal agenda. It's kind of cool to not vote for the woman because she's too conservative for your liking. That, my friends, is progress.

So getting back to the thesis here, it feels good that my age peers are making it to the top. Whether I agree with their politics is irrelevant. The fact that it's more about their stands than their gender or race is what makes me happy.