Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fine Dining.

My boss had a Christmas party at her house and served honey-baked ham, hummus and chicken shwarma. It was a surprisingly good combination, but I don't think it will catch on anytime soon in this part of the world.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

On the Town.

Last December I was in Iraq, and then again in February. I wrote a bit about it earlier in the year, but just recently came across this story from back then. I have a different job now, but at the time getting to travel around Iraq was a real privilege. If I had stayed with that job I'm sure I would be making more regular visits. Maybe even making more friends.

From February 2009

I sipped Courvoisier out of a Dixie cup while Muhammad chain-smoked his cigarettes. The women danced while the band played into the night and the only indication that a war was being fought were the occasional housing-rattling flyovers by Blackhawks.

Mr. Taha, a wealthy local businessman and childhood friend of Muhammad’s, invited us over for dinner and dancing to celebrate his cousin’s birthday and the upcoming elections. His large new house was tucked in a corner of the green zone and situated behind a gate and wall, both manned by sets of private guards. Having this much security might seem suspicious elsewhere, but in Baghdad it’s pretty routine for anyone who can afford it.

Born and raised in Baghdad, but living in New Zealand for the past 15 years, Muhammad worked with us as an interpreter, fixer and source of local knowledge that none of us could ever hope to gain in the short rotations that we came and left on. Muhammad had served in Saddam's military as a tank driver (“I am short enough to sit inside the tank, so that's why I got this job”) but eventually left his home country to a safer, quieter life in the southern hemisphere. Now he was back in Baghdad, the prodigal son returned to help rebuild; and the pay wasn't half bad either.

We were seated in a large open room filled with couches and chairs, the walls decorated with handmade Persian rugs and ornately designed rifles with inlaid pearl along the stock. Several other Iraqi men and women in their mid 40’s came in, and Muhammad introduced me simply as, “Hoowah min Washington - He’s from Washington.” This was met with a smile and then promptly ignored. I was just another American visiting this country, we would all leave in a few weeks or months or years. This was a celebration and people wanted a chance to have fun, not talk with some kid from America.

By 10pm dinner was served, two full tables of meats and salads and breads. We ate and then drank more, the music barely pausing while the band scarfed down plates of freshly grilled lamb. By midnight the birthday cake came out and we all sang in English as the candles were blown out.

Shortly after, I walked with Muhammad out to the car and we drove back to the confines of the embassy. For one night we both had a chance to forget about blast walls and security protocols, IEDs and snipers and all of the other niggling little details of war that buzz in the background of every conversation and interaction. For one night we were just friends out at a party.

Friday, December 25, 2009

All Relative.

My friend Liz was just saying how, as strange as things are here, it's still so much less weird than when I was living in Micronesia. I agreed with her completely.

And then this appeared outside my house the next morning.

Another piece of animal remains, some 20 feet from my front door. I'm not sure if the photo diminishes the scale, but this leg/hip/knee joint looks like it could have belonged to a goat at one point. I'm pretty sure that this is something my neighbors purchased and later cooked, but it's disturbing to think that they just chucked it over the wall when they were done. I guess at least now the neighborhood cat population had something to eat for a while.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Same Old Thing.

There's a pretty sizable community of stray cats living around here, most of them are feral and keep close to the garbage cans and dumpsters that are liberally spread around. On occasion I can hear them fighting, but for the most part they keep to themselves.

On the way home the other evening I passed by a cat that lost a fight with a car, and it reminded me of seeing something similar back when I was living in Micronesia.

From February 2007

I watched a cat die last night.

It darted straight under the wheels of a quickly approaching car, and with a rolling set of thuds was spit out the back. The black mangy mat of fur twisted and spasmed for a moment before gradually contracting its muscles into a fetal position.

Blood trickled slowly at first out of the eyes and mouth, filling in the cracks of the asphalt until the tiny red rivers converged and pooled together. After almost a full minute of inactivity, the cat went through a series of contortions before one of his eyes erupted and spilled a large viscous pool of blood and ocular fluid.

I stood and stared, unable to move. Like most things here, I had no idea what to do. I am used to cats as pets, almost human in their treatment. I was not used to a cat as a pile of twitching and leaking meat. So I stood and I stared, unable to move.

As the now sizable pool of blood cooled and congealed, a man walking down the street approached us. He looked at me, and looked at the former cat. Without even breaking his pace, the man picked up the cat by its tail and carried it unceremoniously out to the beach. With one easy swing to build momentum, he tossed the carcass into the approaching tide.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Matter of Time.

Four days before Christmas and it finally happened. What was it that pushed me over the edge you ask?

"Leroy the Redneck Reindeer."

He's just a down home party animal
Two Steppin all across the sky
He makes jingle bells with the rebel yell
And made history that night

That's right, it's a song about saving Christmas and being Country. I only wish I was joking.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Well yeah, obviously if you were wearing your ninja cloak and high heels at the mall you would want to be careful exiting the escalator. That seems like something they would have taught back in ninja school.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Nowhere Near the Left of the Dial.

I only get three English language radio stations on the alarm clock next to my bed, so every morning I wake up to top 40 country music, beamed out of military base in Europe and somehow bounced around off satellites and into my bedroom.

Perhaps I should mention that I don't like top 40 country music? But this is really nothing more than a daily irritant, something to force me out of bed in the morning. On occasion a song is just so stupid or corny that it actually makes me smile. But it's also very effective, no matter how comfortable my bed may seem, when I am forced to listen to a song called Honky Tonk Badonka Donk, I will get out of bed to turn it off.

And I figured that would be the worst of it. But I hadn't counted on something so vile, so repulsive, so unbearable that I cannot fathom being startled from sleep by it; top 40 country music Christmas songs. A whole month's worth.

I think perhaps it's time to change the station.

Monday, December 14, 2009

We Already Know.

I guess it's not that surprising that my telling of the Hanukkah story involved the phrases 'insurgent forces' and 'guerrilla warfare.'

Sunday, December 13, 2009


High ceilings and a smoke detector running out of batteries do not make for a good night's sleep.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Uh, is 'Washroom' Canadian for Restroom?

"It sure is, eh."

Okay, thanks.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Underground.

The last time I was in a bar that was literally underground, I was in Israel and it was an old bunker where they hadn't even bothered to take down the camouflage netting. Just throw a strobe light in there, play some loud euro-dance and turn on the fog machine. No one will think twice about it. But I suppose when you're 16, you don't need a whole lot more.

Now that I'm back in the region, but in a very different country, the concept of an underground bar holds a different meaning. And while this one was also physically located beneath the earth, the camo nets and artificial fog were replaced with funny stories about camping out in public parks and a quick tour of the trampoline located on the second story rooftop.

I wasn't invited to jump on the trampoline during the evening, but I have a feeling I will invite myself over to do just that soon enough.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Don't Go There.

A bit of fortune cookie advice: Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Just Like in the Cartoons.

While back in DC over Thanksgiving, we drove the four hours south and west to Bath County, Virginia. The forests there are beautiful and we were looking forward to a chance to get out and hike a bit. At the Lake Moomaw (actual name) Resevoir we stopped in at the ranger station just to grab a map. The park ranger, actually an Army Corps of Engineers tour guide (long story), asked us if we were going for a hike. We told him that we were and just as I was about to ask for any trail suggestions he cut us off.

"I wouldn't go out hiking. It's the last day of hunting season and it's anything goes today; bucks, does, whatever. They're going to be shooting at pretty much anything out there. You'll be alright if you stick to the parking area, but other than that I wouldn't recommend it."

So, we quickly got back in the car and took a driving tour of the area, which was still quite nice.

And out there in all that natural beauty, the thing that most captivated me? A giant industrial paper factory right along the West Virginia state line. It smelled bad and I'm sure they were dumping all kinds of horrible chemicals into the river that it sat directly on top of; but I do love a good factory when I see one.

Friday, November 20, 2009

High Concept; Low Art.

My concept for a recycling commercial. No one has yet offered any funding.

Quick cuts flashing a variety of stereotypical scenes of counter-culture plotters, not dissimilar to those found in fight club. Dark rooms, dark clothes, stencils of red fists spray painted on the walls. Three figures, their faces obscured by bandanas or masks are shown in these quick cuts. Loud music being played. (Early 90’s rap? 70’s punk? Obscure indie? No satire, this is made to appear sincere. Also, no techno.)

We quickly realize this group of people are making a Molotov cocktail. After the ingredients are put together, they are seen running down a dark alley, crouched down. One of the guys, the leader, quickly runs into the street and in slow motion, throws the bottle. Extra time is spent on the classic pose of the revolutionary in mid throw, back arched, face covered, burning bottle in hand.

The view of street makes it unclear if we are in the US or perhaps Europe. Maybe even in SE Asia or South America. The location should be made to seem as if it is anywhere in a major decaying city. We see a slow motion shot of the bottle tumbling end over end through the air, the wick (a piece of torn cloth) still burning.

Finally the bottle hits the side of what is clearly a police car. But rather than shatter and burst into flames, the bottle harmlessly bounces off the side of the car and into the street. A loud plastic ‘thud’ is heard. Gasoline slowly spills into the street and starts a small, impotent fire.

Cut back to the guys, the leader turns back to his friends. One of them stands up and in a derisive tone says, “Dude! Plastic?”

Voice over – Plastic containers and bottles can be reused for almost anything. Cut to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle logo.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

TV Misleads Me Again.

I had to put on a jacket before leaving the house tonight. What country am I in again? I thought this wasn't suppose to happen here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Short Drive.

Sometimes the desert is endless sand dunes and camels and palm trees and the occasional oasis. But sometimes the desert is just empty for as far as you can see.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

It's in the Mail.

Greg Mottola, you've done it again. From the very first bars of The Replacements over the opening credits to Big Star, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Husker Du, The Jesus and Mary Chain and (just for you Luke) Crowded House; a really nice soundtrack all the way through.

The movie itself was well done, Jesse Eisenberg once again plays awkward well, that one girl from Twilight was in it, Martin Starr can do no wrong and Mottola even got an understated performance out of Ryan Reynolds. Two Guys and Pizza Place what?

The movie was marketed mostly based on Mottola's connection to Superbad, but there is no resemblance between the two movies.

I still find it a bit odd that I get Netflix here, but you won't find me complaining as long It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and good movies like this keep finding their way out to me.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


My parents are both doctors, so I've spent a lot of time over the years in hospitals and clinics and nursing homes. They don't bother me or remind me of my own mortality or any of that stuff. In fact, when I was offered a tour of one of the private hospitals here, I was pretty curious to see what kind of facility it was.

The tour was nothing special, but I was intrigued by this brochure advertising the hospital's hemorrhoid and rectal surgery services. I don't really know how else one would tastefully demonstrate the relief of having one of these surgeries, but I was greatly amused by just how happy this gentleman is to be sitting in his office chair, in a field.

I guess it's the simple things that make it all worth it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


So, I guess you could say they're doing a bit of construction here. All the time, everywhere, non-stop for the past 30 or so years.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sharing the Road.

I've been knocked off of my bicycle by cars three times over the years. Once by a city bus when I was quite young, and twice in college by different (but very similar) minivans driven by distracted moms talking on cellphones.

All of these were minor incidents that resulted in a few scrapes. And so was last night's fourth bicycle vs. car event. The only difference here is that instead of minivans or buses, I was bumped off the road by a canary yellow Porsche with tinted windows. And instead of the driver stopping to see what happened, I pulled myself off the ground as the finely tuned German engineering accelerated down the street.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Game Night.

This is the other great find at the local toy store, BUSINESS. What's even funnier to me is that the Arabic on the box actually says, MONOPOLY, but it was then re-translated into English as BUSINESS. Aside from being a pretty sweet bootleg copy of Monopoly, the set uses all British real-estate and pounds instead of dollars. Looking to buy Boardwalk for 400 dollars? Sorry, but I can offer you Coventry Street for 260 pounds.

The only disappointment was that, based on the box, I was really hoping that it was indeed a game of Business with Snakes and Ladders. I wanted to play a market based game of buying and selling snakes for ladders until the winner owned all of the ladders.

Sadly, the reality is that the flimsy cardboard playing board is two sided, with a crappy version of chutes and ladders on the back.

Oh well, I guess it's time to get down to BUSINESS.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Perfect Recipe.

Brazilian bossanova and American Jazz by a Japanese composer at the Swedish Embassy in Saudi Arabia. A really nice evening.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Censorship in Saudi Arabia, like many things, has evolved over time. To keep up with modern technology, most censorship of images in magazines and books is done digitally. At bookstores here you can purchase bridal magazines, but the women pictured inside all appear to be wearing long sleeved black shirts under their gowns. Likewise, fashion magazines have pictures of women wearing short dresses or skirts, yet they somehow also have long black leggings on as well.

I don't care for this new digital censorship of images, it's just a bit too slick for me. There was something much more authentic about an era where an entire building full of men scoured every media source with a black pen and scratched out anything they deemed offensive. It's really just not the same to imagine a bunch of graphic design majors carefully editing out legs and arms on Photoshop.

So I was quite pleased to find this children's inner tube package at a toy store last week. The scary giant blob next to the smiling boy is presumably his mother. Thank goodness someone took the time to completely obliterate her image; I can't imagine how offended I would have been to have seen a mother enjoying the day with her child in a swimming pool.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Out Back.

It's still a bit of a surprise, the things I find twenty feet from the back of my house. I guess we have one less wild dog roaming the neighborhood.

I assure you I had absolutely nothing to do with this. I don't even know his name.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


A well placed, highly confidential source has just given me some hot information. According to my source, the Sudanese are obsessed with Toyota Corollas. He says that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir drives a Corolla.

And for further proof, the joke goes like this. A poor Sudanese man wins first prize at a camel race and wins a brand new Lexus. All of his friends come over to him to commiserate and reassure him, "Hey don't feel bad, maybe next time you'll win a Corolla."

I have no idea.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Outlook.

Big excitement here today. For the first time in the two months that I've been living here, I saw clouds in the sky.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I came home to find a delivery menu on my doorstep. For only $8 I could have Polio Marinara delivered to me in the comfort of my living room.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More Making Believe.

I stepped outside my house to wait for my ride and the sound of children laughing drifted up the street. A half block away two little girls were playing in front of their house chasing each other around in the dust and dirt.

The smaller of the two was wearing a red checked keffiyeh wrapped around her head and hiding her face; she was holding a fake plastic shot gun and giggling while chasing the other girl around and around.

It looked like fun.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Just another evening steeped in tradition and history. By which of course I mean going to the mall and eating at Tony Roma's.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Good Signs.

A clear sign that:

1. The weather is getting better (high of only 97 today)
2. I am getting used to the weather and the dryness

I went for a nice run today right at the hottest time. Rather than feeling like I was going to die, I felt like I was back in high school in Sacramento running in the afternoon after class.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Run for your Life.

It was one of those mornings, and I'm sure this happens to you all the time too, where I got up early because I had a lot to do at work and really wanted to get in to my office and get started and then I ended up watching Iron Maiden cover bands for like half an hour on YouTube and was late.

Friday, October 2, 2009

High Life.

I went to a fancy restaurant the other night.

How fancy was it?

This restaurant was so fancy that the first floor was a Ferrari/Maserati dealership.

This restaurant was so fancy that the private elevator that takes you to the 2nd floor was completely decorated with inlay pearl and hand crafted metal work.

This restaurant was so fancy, white gloved waiters hovered around me all night waiting to refill my water glass the second I drank out of it.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Godfather he is not.

The entrance to the barbershop was framed by two plaster columns that gave the appearance of having been taken from some ancient roman structure, and then painted a light purple. But as I walked inside I was greeted with a much more modest, some would say dingy, shop. My barber was an older Filipino named Yacob who wore a large, jeweled pinky ring and a thin pair of glasses pushed to the very end of his nose. Without much prelude he sat me down and got to work.

My haircut was only interrupted once when Yacob's phone rang. For unknown reasons, his ringtone was not a ring at all but a woman's voice repeating over and over again, “Will the driver of the black BMW please move your vehicle from the loading zone.” He answered with a quick burst of Tagalog, listened for a moment and then hung up the phone with a short laugh. “He owes me money,” was the only explanation before he got back to the business of cutting my hair.

At the end of the haircut Yacob took out a straight razor to clean up my hairline along my neck. He put a fresh blade in, doused it with cologne and then lit the blade on fire with a match that he pulled from his shirt pocket. He waved the flame out and set to work on my neck. I choose to assume that this was done with hygiene in mind.

After the haircut was complete Yacob massaged my neck and back for about 30 seconds and then declared that he was done with me. I thanked him for his good work and was on my way back out through the columns and into the midday heat.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Getting Along.

The Marine corporal standing outside my office door was about 5'2” and built like a fire hydrant. He seemed about as friendly as a fire hydrant too. Without any introduction he stepped inside my office and asked in a heavy southern drawl, “Do you like country music, or that rap stuff? Because I like country music and my brother, he likes the rap. I can't stand it. I'll take Taylor Swift any day over Kanye or whatever his name is. So, are you like me or my brother?”

It seemed pretty clear that this was a chance for one of the Marines to mess with the new guy, and I really didn't want to get involved in this conversation at that moment. So I replied that I was really more of the quiet evening at home reading a book type of guy.

He sneered at me and said, “So, jazz huh?”

I caved in and told him that I guess I was more like his brother and liked rap and hip hop.

His hand absentmindedly dropped to the pistol strapped to his leg. “Yeah, I figured as much. You look kinda like my brother too. He and I don't really get along.”

I thanked the corporal for this fascinating insight to his family life and then excused myself while turning back to my computer.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Single Minded.

Um, yeah, I know this is kind of a weird question and you probably don't have any but I lost my remote and was wondering if maybe you sold any replacements?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It's come to this.

So, I get that you might be a kinda freaked out if someone was sitting on top of your head,

but why is this guy always winking at me? What is he getting at exactly?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I guess the first sign of trouble should have been that the bag of chips was called chachos rather than nachos. Of course, by the time I realized that the flavor was Spicy Curry I already knew it was too late. They were a bad choice.


Yesterday's high temperature was 105, down from 109. And the really weird thing is that I could actually tell that it felt cooler out.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Corporate Outreach.

9pm on a Sunday and I'm trying to buy a half dozen chocolate donuts from the guy at the Dunkin' Donut shop a mile from my house. I really only want one donut, but by the time I get there I see the sole employee sitting by himself at a table staring out the window. I feel bad for him, he seems lonely and bored. Or maybe I'm just projecting.

I don't know why I thought ordering extra donuts would cheer him up, I doubt there's any kind of volume donut sales profit sharing agreement with Dunkin' employees worldwide, but I wasn't really sure what else to do. I asked the guy if he had any chocolate milk too.

"You like chocolate, huh?" he asked with a smile.

I agreed with him while fumbling with my cash.

He boxed up my purchase and handed it across the counter to me. "I see you again soon chocolate man," he waved as I was leaving.

And while most people would probably not describe me as chocolate, I think maybe I have a new friend.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Keeping Busy.

Everyone is out of town on vacation for the next week and the daily high temperature is 109. Therefore, I have been spending a lot of time in my house. Too much time. It got to the point today where I really wanted to go for a run, but it was too hot so I decided to do the next best thing.

I get a few channels from the Armed Forces Network, the military's European satellite network. They have a daily show called, Fit for Duty. It's an aerobics show.

As I danced along to the television in my over air-conditioned home in the desert I said out loud to myself, "Adam, this is really one of the stupider things you've done."

And because when I'm by myself for long stretches of time I tend to talk to myself out loud I replied, "No, actually you've done lots of stupider things."

Then it was back to squat thrusts.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Starting Over.

Right, so I know that it's a pharmacy but really other than that I have no idea.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Dry Land?

Kevin Costner's giant head is plastered all over billboards for Turkish Airlines with the tag line, "Feel like a Star." I don't know who advised Turkish Air about having Mr. Costner as their celebrity spokesperson, but I would really rather not feel like 'The Mariner' or worry about trying to breathe through my gills while aboard any type of aircraft.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


There was no way that I was really going to spend $10 on a box of six Rice Krispy Treats, but I definitely thought about it for a long time.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

En Route.

I'm sick and staying at an airport hotel for a day outside of London. One has nothing to do with the other, but together makes for less fun travel than I would have hoped.

Earlier today:

I passed out in the hotel room for a few hours in a jet lag and Nyquil induced coma. When I awoke I was hungry and a bit dazed. Not wanting to deal with the Tube or getting into town, I stumbled out onto the street in front of the hotel and seeing a sign that said, Slough, I figured I'd head in that direction for a bit. (This is how watching too much of The Office will subliminally effect decision making.)

After a few blocks I found a Chinese restaurant attached to some sort of warehouse facility. The planes taking off from Heathrow flew directly over the parking lot. By the time I was seated at a table by the window (the view; the side of another warehouse) I realized that not only did no one in the entire restaurant speak any English, the menu they handed me was entirely in Cantonese.

I scanned through a few pictures of meals that all seemed to include a large chicken claw placed in the middle of the plate, and finally pointed to a few I recognized. My nose was so stuffed up that I couldn't really taste much, but other than that my chicken clawless meal was pretty good.

Later in the day, feeling even more ill and less adventurous, I settled on a small restaurant across the street from the hotel. It was only with dinner did I remember the two best parts of Imperial Britain's handful of centuries spent in India; curry and IPA.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Comparative Zoobiology.

I've lived in DC for a few years now but only just last weekend made it to the National Zoo. It's a good zoo, as far as zoos are concerned, but I wasn't incredibly impressed. I suppose that without being able to charge for admission they're somewhat restricted by how much new investment can be done.

Anyway, I had a nice time and really liked seeing the big cats. It was the middle of the day and warm out so the lions were doing exactly what all cats do during a warm afternoon, napping. Just as we got to the lion exhibit, one of the trainers took a giant piece of cow leg out of a bag and hurled it across the moat. The cow hock landed with a loud thump, and just like when I shake my cat's food bag, the lion immediately sat up and bounded across his enclosure over to the food.

And just like my cat at home, it didn't take the lion very long to finish off his meal and wander back to sleep.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On the Other Hill.

We wandered over to Georgetown University last weekend to look around at the campus. It just so happens that we were visiting during the freshmen orientation. This meant that there were several dozen groups of fresh-faced youngsters being led around by wizened elder classmates.

All this commotion made for a very distracting environment which allowed us to wander out onto a series of metal walkways on that back of some dorms that overlook the Potomac River. The walkways were suspended almost three stories high and met occasionally on large cement platforms that were just begging for a party to be thrown on them. I think the only campus with a nicer view from the dorms that I've seen were the beach front motels converted into student housing at UC Santa Barbara.

Afterward we walked back through the residential part of Georgetown and marveled at all of the beautiful houses and gardens. We even came across this fox hiding out as a door knocker.

It was a nice walk.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Oh DC, only you would put a 7-ll in some sort of brick row house. Cheap plastic siding in a strip small just isn't good enough for you. One question: where will the 14 year olds loiter if not in the alley behind you next to the dumpster while they drink slurpees and eat peanut butter cups?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Turn That Off.

We were walking by the White House today when I noticed one of the Secret Service agents in tactical gear holding a very strange looking weapon. I stood against the fence next to two 11 year old boys also staring at the gun. I wondered out loud what the gun was and one of the boys said, "It's a P90." I looked at him doubtfully and turned away. Why would an overweight child know what this gun was.

Ignoring the kid I shouted over to the Secret Service agent and ask what kind of weapon he was carrying. "It's a P90." Oh, I said. Is it folded up? "Nope, it's ready to go right now," he replied in a manner that was not meant to be menacing, but coming from a man wearing full combat gear and holding a loaded weapon, nonetheless was.

The kid looked over at me with a 'told-you-so' smile on his face. How did you know what that was, I asked.

"From videogames." Oh, how very reassuring.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

more Priorities.

Sitting in the entrance of the not-so-Safeway during a heavy downpour, a young guy wearing plastic bags over his feet:

"You damn right I'm wearing bags on my shoes. These things got new suede on them. They cost me $200!"

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Getting Help.

My car's battery died today. I was at a gas station and the engine wouldn't turnover. After getting a jump from the attendant the car died again about two blocks away. We called AAA and they dispatched a very helpful guy who was able to install a new battery and then we were on our way.

All in all, a rather boring story. But I did very much like this part; the emergency repair guy's truck had his company slogan painted on the back. It said, "We meet by accident."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

By the Bag.

After our hike last weekend we went to a pick-your-own peaches orchard. The trees were loaded and we were there in the midday sun, so the aroma of fresh peaches was wafting through the air. The three of us each had a bag and went to work picking and eating. By the time we had all filled our bags I had also eaten five peaches and was feeling a bit ill.

We took our overflowing bags down to the main house to pay, and only then did we realize that we were each holding a 12 pound bag. That means we were bringing home over 35 pounds of peaches.

The past week has been nothing but peach pie, peach scones, peach jam and a large helping of peaches on cereal in the morning and ice cream at night.

Now don't get me wrong, this is a great problem. It's such a good problem that we went blackberry picking this weekend.

Friday, August 14, 2009

So Close.

We went on a very nice hike last weekend about an hour outside of DC and stopped for a while to swim in some river pools. Next to the pools we stumbled upon a group of butterflies who were so focused on whatever they were doing that they had no problem with me taking a few very close-up pictures. I'm clearly still really enjoying the digital-macro function on the camera.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Being a firefighter is probably about as cool as it sounds (how many jobs get to have the word fighter in them? Maybe three?), but it occurs to me that it has to be someone's job at the fire station to fold up all of the hoses after a fire.

Do firefighters have interns or does this job just fall to Doug, the new guy? You know, you're back at the station after putting out some fire and you're eating ribs and high fiving each other, talking about how awesome it was to put out that fire; and there's Doug over in the corner, quietly folding the hoses back onto the truck. He's doing a good job at it, really checking to make sure the creases are even, but you can tell he'd rather be hanging out with the rest of the crew.

I know it needs to be done and Doug's gotta pay his dues, but it would nice if you could include him in your parties every now and then.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I'm not really sure that learning how to talk about pork products in Arabic is the best use of my time.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Arabic is a very nice language based on a three letter root word system. Many words can be traced back to a three letter root. Often, but not always, the words based on this root are related or have a similar meaning. The most common example is the root KiTeB which is the basis for words like book, library, to speak and office.

Today we were talking about the root GhRF. (The Gh sound is sort of swallowed when pronounced.) Anyway, this is the root from which one could derive the words West, western, sunset, to set, to disappear and Morocco (it's the westernmost Arab country).

But it can also carry the meaning of disappearing into a foreign culture. It would be used to describe someone who went away to live in another country and when they came back you couldn't recognize them.

I've seen it happen a couple of times already.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


I'm sorry, do I live in Washington DC or one of the hundreds of rapidly urbanizing cities across China? Cause, I can't always tell just by looking.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Traffic slowed to a crawl on the 14th street bridge while a bald eagle looped lazy circles overhead. The Washington monument poked above the horizon in the near distance.

After a time, we inched forward and I could see the disruption in traffic. Two police cars had pulled into the left lane; one officer stood about idly while the other handcuffed a young black man up against a Nissan 300z. We all merged from our lane into the next, some staring at the scene like a car wreck, others looking straight ahead as if it didn't exist at all.

The flow of traffic opened back up and the afternoon commute carried on.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tangential Haberdashery.

What can you do about parents? It doesn't matter if they live on the other side of the city or the country or the world, they're going to do ridiculous things. I happen to live far away from my folks, so it's hard for me to stop them from doing things like crafting a bizarre voodoo shrine to professional bicycling.

Now don't get me wrong, I happen to really like the Tour de France. When I was young I went through a stage that lasted several years where I would wear European style bicycle caps with the brim flipped up. I wore them everywhere. I have distinct memories of being harassed by larger children at the YMCA summer camp because of my flipped brim hat. Looking back, I totally understand. What 12 year old could the resist the urge to the knock a stupid looking hat off a smaller kid's head? But I think I got off topic here.

The point is, we're talking about educated professionals here. Two people who lead normal lives have built a sacred place of worship in their living room dedicated to a bicycle race held on the other side of the world. What can you do?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

It was Inevtiable.

Fine, it's happened and I accept it so let's just move on and not spend too much time dwelling on the fact that I've finally become one of those people that publishes photos of their cat on their blog.

Make all the fun you want, the real point is that I was having fun playing with the digital macro setting on my new camera. Subject matter aside, the detail that the Canon Digital Elph gets is pretty impressive.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


A few months ago I was reading something from a music critic who said that "hip hop has entered its baroque period." I thought that sounded clever, but I wasn't exactly sure that T-Pain singing like a robot qualified as a baroque movement.

But then today on the drive home I heard Kanye West rhyme g-string with Riesling. How many top 40 listeners can identify what a Riesling is, and more importantly does this mean that I should now invest heavily in wineries that bottle Riesling?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Not Quite Yet.

My soon to be in-laws were in town visiting last week and I took my soon to be father-in-law to the Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum out by Dulles. I've been to the museum before and it's really great, but it was even more fun to go with someone who was clearly so excited about getting to see all of the planes. I could barely finish reading a description placard before my almost dad-in-law was excitedly telling me about the next plane over.

And of course, in addition to looking at planes and jets, I heard all kinds of stories. I heard about the time he was hitchhiking across the country and ended up in east St. Louis at 5am. I heard about the time he was briefly an NRA member. I heard about the 9 hours that he was in the Army. I even heard stories about old co-workers who piloted planes in WWII.

We had a lot of fun. Even the planes thought it was a cool day.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mad Men.

The Valanx is a prototype light armored vehicle designed by BAE Systems to replace the Humvee as the US military's primary small transport vehicle. At this point only two companies are in the running to become the sole supplier of the military's new transport system (Lockheed Martin is the other candidate). Analysts estimate that the winning contract could be worth $20 billion, and that does not include the potential future contracts with foreign militaries or the possibility of civilian crossover sales.

Now that's all fine and good, just another defense contract competition that may or may not drag on for years like the current Air Force air refueling tanker dispute. (Google it if you want, I don't have a handy link to put in for you.)

The real issue I have is the recent public advertising campaign by BAE Systems for the Valanx. Ad space has been bought inside Metro cars to promote the Valanx. The ads are simple, a three quarters shot of the vehicle with the tag line, "Move Over," at the top.

It was actually my friend Ben, visiting from California who pointed out how strange it was that a defense contractor bidding on an exclusive military contract would choose to spend marketing money on public ads that seemed aimed at Metro riders on a busy commute. I just assumed that BAE Systems wanted this contract so badly that they were willing to gamble on placing the ads in the Metro with the hopes that some Pentagon employs in the aquisitions division will see the posters and be influenced. Stuck on a crowded train in the morning on the way to work, these civil servant accountants will see the aggressive lines of the Valanx and think, "Yeah, MOVE OVER! Let's buy 30,000 of these things."

I suppose stranger things have happened.

Friday, July 24, 2009

When they come for you.

"Uh yeah, copy that, we're gonna need some more backup here. I already called Jenkins in for this one, but we might need tactical to get in here too. No, this car is huge and I'm worried that we won't be able to handle this with only two squad cars."

"Roger, we'll stay here and stand around doing pretty much nothing for the next 20 minutes. That should take care of things."

Thursday, July 23, 2009


We visited the H Street Country Club a few weekends ago and had a great time. The Country Club is a two story bar that has a preppy argyle theme throughout. Lots of tennis racquetes, golf clubs, weird looking hats. Downstairs they have a couple of pool tables and shuffle board tables. Upstairs they have a nine hole mini-golf course.

Yes, an entire nine holes indoor golf course with full bar service while you play. Better than that, the course is DC themed, so that you have to hit the ball past a lobbyist's briefcase and around zombie Lincoln and through an accident on the beltway.

The final hole is a par three around the Washington Monument. The monument also happens to have King Kong climbing on the side holding a woman.

If you happen to make it to the Country Club try the house lemonade, it's perfect for summer and indoor golf.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Keep It Together.

On my way home today I saw a group of little kids out for a walk with their day-care center. To make sure that none of the kids ran off into traffic, the day-care leaders tied all of the kids' wrists to a long yellow piece of rope. The kids seemed to be having a good time, toddling down the street like a miniature chain gang.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Out West.

I spent a really great weekend whitewater rafting with an old friend in Colorado. We spent two days with some of his friends on the Arkansas river and had a ton of fun.

One of our river guides was a Nepalese guy named Boche who had been living in the US for the past 6 years guiding rafts on a bunch of different rivers. Before that, Boche had grown up guiding rafts in Nepal. And I mean, he really grew up on rafts.

As a boy Boche was employed as essentially a movable ballast on rafts in huge rapids. He would sit in the middle of the raft and when they were about to hit a huge wave (say 14 feet tall) he would jump over to the high side of the boat and help to add extra weight so they wouldn't flip over.

So Boche knew how to handle the river pretty well. He was also a pretty quiet guy who would occasionally just break into laughter. When I asked him what was so funny he just looked over at me and smiled and said, "Oh, I just like to laugh sometimes."


To the guy who spent the entire plane ride hitting on the girl in the seat next to him: Having a close up picture of Jesus' face with blood dripping down it as the screen saver for your iphone is really just not okay.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Brain Food.

I know I've posted about them before, but I was at the Arboretum with my sister and her boyfriend a few weekends ago. I forgot how disgusting the writhing mass of koi in the pond are. My sister made the mistake of buying some fish food and tossing it into the water. The koi jumped on top of each other and almost spilled out of the pond while trying to eat the food.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Dressing Up.

We went for nice bike ride down to Arlington today, and on the way back up the Mall I saw three kids walking with their parents towards the Air and Space Museum. The three boys were each wearing the orange NASA space suits that you can buy at the gift shop there. They must have been so excited to see the rockets and spaceships that they dressed up. How cute.

Of course, from far away all I could see was three little people walking down the Mall wearing orange jumpsuits and I immediately came to a different conclusion. There are three little kids in mini-Gitmo jumpsuits heading down the mall to protest something or other. How cute.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I only just now realized that I'm actually in WESTERN Virginia, and not West Virginia.

I guess I was confused because they have a Shoney's and a Cracker Barrel and a Golden Corral all in the same block.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

I'm up already.

Back when it was a true novelty to see a telephone on an airplane, I remember that the phones on Delta were all explicitly labeled "public phone," so people would know that they were there to be used by anyone. On one flight from Chicago to somewhere, the previous person in my seat had scratched out the 'l' from the label, and I was left with three and half hours to contemplate the meaning of a "pubic phone."

I never did come to terms with what that meant, and it really has nothing to do with these pictures below other than to say that I really enjoy public art. Not that I like all pieces of public artwork, far from it. It's more that I really like the idea that we are willing to use public funds to pay artists to create (often) huge pieces of art for everyone to see and enjoy (or see and despise).

When public art happens to involve a giant metal man arising from the earth and is built on a scale that allows small children to climb into its open mouth, well then all the better.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Walking towards GW last week, half of the street was blocked off by several police cars. Two fire trucks were out and a hazmat unit was unloading stuff from their van. I walked over to one of the police on the perimeter to ask what was going on.

Police Lady: We're not able to release that information at this time.

Me: You know, saying that doesn't really make any of us feel safer about what's going on.

Police Lady: Well, how do you think it makes me feel?

Me: I really have no idea.

I walked away feeling very confused. I guess that was better than feeling frightened.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Full Bloom.

We made a short visit to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens last weekend. I've posted about the gardens before, but this time we figured we see what they looked like in a different season.

And as you might expect for a tropical garden, there's a lot more going on in the summertime. Waterlilies, lotuses and a variety of other aquatic plants abound.

Kenilworth is a bit hard to get to, but is worth the extra effort. If you keep an eye out, you can even see a bit of animal life too.